by James Howe, published 2005
“I took one of the pins Aunt Pam had given me and put it on my shirt. It said Celebrate Diversity. Then I took it off, thinking I’d give it to Addie, because it’s one she’d really like, and I put on another one: Being Who You Are Isn’t A Choice.”
This gem of a children’s book came into my hands unexpectedly, after I told my friend I hadn’t found any new books recently. This children’s book was part of the SEL Program at her son’s school. I opened it, and by the time I finished, I wanted to stand up and cheer – both for schools that offer this as classroom reading, as well as for an author who knows how to write about a contemporary and polarizing subject with honesty, humor, and compassion.
I was astounded at how I was immediately drawn into the story from the first page, and all I could see was the honest struggle of a 12-year-old boy, who knows he is gay, and wondering why it was so difficult for others to accept. His humor, resilience, and genuine confidence in who he was made me rethink any stereotypes I had created in my mind about children and gender identity.
However, this children’s book goes further than simply understanding what it’s like to be gay in today’s world. It expands the issue to all the ways, especially in schools, that teens are judged, made to conform, marginalized, called names, simply because they march to a different drummer. This message cannot be repeated often enough to our growing children. In today’s divisive world, there is an urgency to remind our children again and again, “be proud to be who you are, because in fact, you can’t be anyone else anyway.”
A great children’s book for a classroom read or family discussion, or just to read because it’s a fabulously told story, with lots of humor.