Were I Not a Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry by Lisa Robinson, illustrated by Lauren Simkin Berke. Schwartz & Wade Books, 9781984849052, 2020
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? The story starts off with an intriguing hook to pull the reader in to learn more about Dr. James Barry, who many readers are unlikely to know. Throughout the biography, readers understand how Margaret is frustrated by the limited role she can play in society as a woman, and then watch as his opportunities open up when he becomes a man. It will not be clear to all readers that James was likely a transgender man; some readers may compare Margaret to women who disguised themselves as men for a short period of their lives to join the military. However, the back matter offers more detail both about James’s life as well as what it means to be transgender, and adult readers can decide how much to share with younger readers. I found the description of gender and pronouns very clear and appropriate for even young children. I also appreciated the illustrator’s note about their own nonbinary gender identity. This book both celebrates individuals publicly living their truth, as well as shares about the life of an extraordinary doctor. The muted color and background detail in the illustrations emphasizes the time period and focuses the reader’s attention on the important characters.
Anything you did not like about the book. Nothing
To whom would you recommend this book? I would recommend this to adults to read with children who have questions about gender identity (either their own or other people in their lives) as a way of normalizing transgender people and focusing on other parts of their stories in addition to their gender. It would also be a great read aloud as a biography to begin to open the minds of young children to how people can live and share their own identities in the world.
Who should buy this book? Elementary school librarians, public librarians
Where would you shelve it? Biographies
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Sarah Bickel, Greenlodge Elementary School, Dedham Massachusetts
Date of review: Oct. 18, 2020