Reviewed by Paige Pagan and Brad Manker
Simple language and vibrant illustrations highlight the warm dynamics of a close-knit and accepting Black family in this picture book about a transgender child living with autism.
This book for younger elementary school students centers on Trinity, a transgender girl in a family of five who loves soft things like her pet pig’s mane and her doll’s curly hair. In a moment of self-consciousness, Trinity verbalizes that she needs long hair like one of her dolls. She explains that short hairstyles are socially acceptable for cisgender girls and women like her mother, but for transgender girls and women like Trinity, their struggle for validation necessitates a need to comply with certain feminine beauty standards. The family brainstorms in a collective effort to help and her older brother comes up with an idea to buy a wig, but none at the local beauty store seem fitting for Trinity’s big, beautiful personality. Undeterred, her mother spends much of the night “weaving love into every row” (p. 20) of a custom-made rainbow wig. Trinity cries tears of joy when she tries it on and her appearance finally matches the conception she has of her genuine self.
Based on the lived experiences of the mother/daughter author duo, this authentic narrative presents themes of disability and gender diversity in honest, simple terms without being assumptive. Members of both the autistic and transgender youth communities may connect with Trinity’s story and feel affirmed in their own variations of that reality. The book introduces young readers to the complex and layered nature of someone who lives at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities. Additionally, it underscores the importance of a loving and supportive community and provides an opportunity for discussion about kindness, empathy, acceptance, and inclusion. Art Twink’s colorful illustrations are soft and whimsical, showing a sensitive representation of the subject matter while also portraying intrafamily diversity. Their depictions of Black family interactions are especially lovely.
Books that feature children with disabilities are rare, and as books that feature transgender and/or queer youth continue to be banned, My Rainbow is both a timely and necessary read.
Paige Pagan is a Social Justice Books program specialist at Teaching for Change.
Brad Manker serves as a fellow with Teaching for Change. He is an educator, curriculum designer, and independent researcher with a background in elementary education.
My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal, Trinity Neal
Published by Penguin on October 20, 2020
Genres: Disabilities, Gender Identity, Hair, LGBTQ
Reading Level: Grade K, Grades 1-2
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Publisher's Synopsis: A dedicated mom puts love into action as she creates the perfect rainbow-colored wig for her transgender daughter, based on the real-life experience of mother-daughter advocate duo Trinity and DeShanna Neal.
Warm morning sunlight and love fill the Neal home. And on one quiet day, playtime leads to an important realization: Trinity wants long hair like her dolls. She needs it to express who she truly is.
So her family decides to take a trip to the beauty supply store, but none of the wigs is the perfect fit. Determined, Mom leaves with bundles of hair in hand, ready to craft a wig as colorful and vibrant as her daughter is.
With powerful text by Trinity and DeShanna Neal and radiant art by Art Twink, My Rainbow is a celebration of showing up as our full selves with the people who have seen us fully all along.