Making Room for Everyone: Gender Nonconforming and Transgender Characters in Middle Grade Novels


my princess boy

My Princess Boy image courtesy

In the 1997 Belgian film Ma Vie En RoseLudovic is a seven year old boy who likes to wear dresses and fancy shoes. He can’t wait to grow up to be a woman and doesn’t understand why those around him are so upset by his gender nonconformity. The film beautifully portrays Ludovic’s story in the context of a family, community, and identity formation. It is not about sexuality persay, but squarely about gender identity.

Although we hear more and more about gender identity in the mainstream press, including legal disputes over children being allowed to use gendered bathrooms in schools, and conversations about whether gender nonconformity in very young children is the same as an expression of trangender identity, are  gender nonconforming and transgender young people represented in Middle Grade Novels? I can think of a number of YA novels with transgender or gender nonconforming characters (check out this list on the great John Green’s tumblr, which includes Luna by Julie Anne Peters and Parrot Fish by Ellen Wittlinger). I can also think of recent picture books including 10,000 Dresses, and My Princess BoyBut what about middle grade novels?

It took me quite a bit of searching, but the best list I found was on Lee Wind’s excellent website, on a post GLBTQ Middle Grade bookshelf. Not all titles were of gender nonconforming characters, but here are some highlights of the ones that appeared to be. Many of these titles are unfamiliar to me, so I’d love any thoughts you have on them, or any other novels featuring gender nonconforming/challenging or transgender characters!


image courtesy

1. The Boy in the Dress by David Williams: 12 year old Dennis is a star soccer player who likes reading fashion magazines wearing dresses. One day, his new friend Lisa dares him to wear a dress to school.

2. If You Believe in Mermaids, Don’t Tell: 13 year old Todd is the best diver at summer camp. Only thing is, his secret with is to be  mermaid, something he knows he’s not supposed to be.

3. From Alice to Zen and Everything in Between: 11 year old Alice likes playing soccer and working on her go kart. But her new best friend Zen tells her that she needs a makeover to make it in middle school. Only fast-talking, fashion-loving Zen is himself outcast at school for his interests.

4. Wandering Son Book 1 and 2: (Mangas) Fifth graders Shuichi and Yoshino connect during the first days of school, discovering that they share a love of many different things… including the fact that Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy.

Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!



  1. Hi!

    I loved this post so much, I mentioned it in a column I wrote:


  2. Thank you for your comments, L – I agree that ‘gender nonconformity’ is more policed in boys, right? Whereas girls have a slightly wider birth on which to navigate (at least in some ways, of course in other ways a far narrower ledge!)
    I think it’s interesting that we have some lovely picture books and some strong YA coming out on gender nonconformity or transgender identity — but little MG material (that at least I’m aware of! Bring on the lists, those who know!)
    I too created this post as a way to discover new books, so hope that others will add their favorites!

  3. love this post!

    you have me working my way through the mental catalog…and writing these books down.

    I notice right away from the short list you provide of mg fic that nonconformity/transgender (n/t) are represented primarily by boys. Would it be easier to find female more n/t books historical fiction, ala a young person’s Moll Flanders-type figure, or possibly even Enola Holmes (Nancy Springer)?

    I get why YA would provide more frequency to the lists/dialog because of how much we attach gender to sexuality, and sexuality to individual (more permanent) identity. Is it the attempt to try to not to sexualize the age group; and yet romances are features so… Too, identity/individuality is a concern of mg fiction, as are human-reflections/verisimilitude.

    just random thoughts… I am fairly ignorant on the subject, but am interested. thanks for sharing this post (and links)