Sparkle Boy Written by Leslie Newman and Illustrated by Maria Mola
The illustrations are superb and have artistic merit with plenty of expressions that are well-drawn in the character’s faces and body language. The enhancements to showcase when something is sparkly is a nice touch as well. The illustrations did a good job of tying in with the story and could to some degree tell the story without the words being needed. The medium used for the illustrations looks to be a form of mixed media, possibly done via digital painting.
The illustrations complement the text perfectly and could carry the story on their own. The expressions on the character’s faces add a lot of depth and emotion to the story that could otherwise be missed in the text alone. Especially in Jesse’s expressions every time Casey shows interest or wears something shimmery or sparkly as you can see her sheer distaste.
All character’s shown are unique with their own sense of fashion, hairstyle, hair color, physical features, as well as skin color. None of the characters are stereotypical or fill a harmful stereotype visually.
The display of gender nonconformance is culturally accurate and displays no negative or harmful stereotypes. Situations and questions presented were realistic and portrayed in the best-case scenario while staying culturally accurate.
Newman is from within the LGBTQ+ culture and is there for an insider. She has written many children’s books that cover different aspects of the culture and has won many literary awards for her work.
I have mixed feelings about the delivery of this book. While the book delivers a good message I think it could have used a nice author’s note or some extra content and speaking points for parents and children to navigate this topic. In an ideal world, we can say “Why not?” and move on but a deeper discussion must be had for change to be made in some instances and I think that a mark may have been missed here. For example, when I went to the author website there is a quote from the author about why she wrote this book that says:
“Here’s a question I was once asked: “If you had nothing to rebel against and nothing to conform to, who would you be?” That got me thinking about the “rules” that our society dictates that are harmful to us all, including notions about gender. I wrote Sparkle Boy in hopes that it will add to the discussion about the wide spectrum of gender expression. There is no “right” way to be. There are as many ways to express gender as there are people in the world and we all deserve the freedom to be whoever we want.”
This would have been an excellent author’s note in the back of the book. Something to get children, parents, and educators thinking about gender non-conformity and discussing it in useful and thoughtful ways. Leaving the book so bare of additional content I think was a mistake. Without it, the story can almost fall flat or bland as it leaves a question of what now? Or So what? Now I understand that it is up to educators and parents to use books as a tool to teach children but I also think that children like to hear what the author, who they see as the authority on the story, has to say about what is written. Perhaps I am being too critical but this is the only thing that for me really missed the mark on what is otherwise a good book on gender non-conformity.
The book has otherwise received due praise for being great at showing gender non-conformance, gender-neutrality, capturing the innocence of youth and teaching us that tolerance and understanding can sometimes be a learning process for some.
Sparkle Boy was a Finalist in the International School of Beijing Panda Book Awards 2019-2020, the Honor Book in the Massachusetts Book Awards 2018, the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature Irma Black award Honor Book 2018, and the Storytelling World Resource Award Honors Title 2018.
Aside from my own personal critiques of the book, it is a great read and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to parents and educators as a way to ease children into gender non-conformity. I would, however, caution them to prepare some additional material especially the author’s note on why she wrote the book as additional source material for discussion. Again, this seems like a no brainer but I feel that as the author’s when writing about certain diverse or “touchy” subjects more supplemental information should be included to help those who might not think to look for additional resources, like parents. The book is wholesome as it tackles a hard issue which in itself is difficult to pull off. The illustrations capture the story perfectly and in a way that is endearing, sparkly, and enough to empathize, enjoy, and learn from.
Top 5 Illustrated LGBT+ Books for Children
1. This Day in June written by Gale E. Pitman and Illustrated by Kristyna Litten
This Day in June won the 2015 Stonewall Book Award and with great reason. This colorful and joyful look at the pride parade from a child’s perspective is a wonderful addition to any diverse collection. Showcasing a diverse cast of characters of all sizes, shapes, races, and of course genders and sexual orientations, this book really showcases just how beautiful love is for all.
2. Prince and Knight Written by Daniel Haack and Illustrated by Stevie Lewis
A refreshing take on traditional fairytales, Prince and Knight tells the story of a prince who was not interested in marrying a princess but a special partner of a different kind. The Illustrations in this book are superb and the story reads just like a traditional fairytale for those that love the genre but the twist, in the end, shows that there is more than one type of love.
3. Jack not Jackie Written by Erica Silverman and Illustrated by Holly Hatam
Jack not Jackie is a beautifully illustrated book about a big sister coming to terms with her little sister’s transformation from female to male. It’s a touching story told from a child’s perspective on the innocence and difficulty of gender expectations, gender expression, gender identity, and it’s challenging at such a young age. Ultimately, The story is about the love between siblings and how even when people don’t turn out to be exactly what we expected them to, we can still wholeheartedly accept them for who they are. It’s a great story that teaches children about gender fluidity in a wholesome way. The book is also written in partnership with GLAAD and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book go to support GLAAD’s work to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ+ peoples.
4. My Princess Boy Written by Cheryl Kilodavis and Illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone
Another great book about the fluidity of gender My Princess Boy tells the story of a boy who loves to wear dresses and all things sparkly. The story is told from the perspective of a parent as they speak about their princess boy. They tell of how he loves all things sparkly, how they love to wear dresses and the hardships of being a boy who enjoys all things girly. The best part about this book is that the end poses some very good and thought-provoking questions for children. “If you see a princess boy will you laugh at him? Will you play with him? Will you call him names? Will you like him for who he is?” The watercolor illustrations are also wonderful. While the people have no faces it adds to the whimsy of the book as it tackles a difficult issue.
5. Heather Has Two Mommies Written by Leslea Newman and Illustrated by Laura Cornell
I love this book because not only does it showcase the normality of having same-sex parents and even the doubt some children may have when starting school and seeing that their family is different. The story is wholesome and teaches children not only about same-sex families but about all different types of families but the diversity that exists within family units and how it’s okay to have a different family because love is what makes a family not the types of people in it.
- Leslea Newman
- Robert Sanders
- Gayle E. Pitman
- J.J. Austrian
- Thomas Scotto
- Leslea Newman
- Jessica Love
- Kyle Lukoff
- Erica Silverman
- Miriam B. Schiffer
- Michael Joosten
- Sophie Beer
- LAMBDA Literary Award
- Stonewall Book Award
- LAMBDA Award- https://www.lambdaliterary.org/awards/
- Stonewall Award –http://www.ala.org/rt/rrt/award/stonewall
- Robert Sanders – https://www.robsanderswrites.com/for-teachers
- Mombian – https://www.mombian.com/books-and-more/
- Rainbow Round Table of ALA – http://www.ala.org/rt/rrt
- ALA Rainbow Book List – https://glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks/rainbow-books-lists
- Teaching Books LGBTQ Collection – https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?go=1&adv=title&culturalArea=LGBTQ
- LGBTQ-Inclusive Kids’ Books for Multicultural Children’s Book Day – https://www.mombian.com/2019/01/25/readyourworld-lgbtq-inclusive-kids-books-for-multicultural-childrens-book-day/