• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Book Lists > Making Room for Everyone: Gender Nonconforming and Transgender Characters in Middle Grade Novels
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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...


    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...


    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories,


    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...


    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...


    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…


    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...


    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...


    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...


    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...


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

Book Lists


my princess boy

My Princess Boy image courtesy amazon.com

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 ellenwittlinger.com

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. L  •  Dec 13, 2013 @2:11 pm

    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)

  2. Sayantani  •  Dec 13, 2013 @4:36 pm

    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. Danielle  •  Dec 18, 2013 @4:39 pm


    I loved this post so much, I mentioned it in a column I wrote: http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com/2013/12/why-childrens-and-ya-literature-deserves-more-media-attention/