George : Alex Gino

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A lot has been written and spoken about LGBT, transgender, gay and lesbian rights. But has anyone stopped and pondered what if a family member turned out to be any one. Have we really thought how our personal view would be? No, I guess not.

The book has received mixed reviews citing issues like poor style of writing, lack of real plot, poor characterization…and so on. I also found parents to be angry, irate and uncomfortable about the book discussing transgender among kids. Little do they understand that if it is identified earlier the child has much more ease to live life in his/her skin. The early acceptance allows parents the space and advantage of being prepared for the reactions and difficulties they’ll have to face.

For me as an educator, I would say the book hits right in the eye. The book is a children’s novel about a young transgender girl written by Alex Gino. George, a fourth grader, dreams of playing Charlotte, the female spider, rather than Wilbur, the male pig, in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web. George auditions for the part by reciting Charlotte’s lines to her teacher, who thinks that George is playing a joke on her. While initially upset, George refuses to participate in the play but volunteers for stage crew. After George comes out as transgender to her best friend Kelly, the two devise a plan for George to play Charlotte during the evening performance of Charlotte’s Web.

Life’s simple moments have been presented with the same simplicity such that the reader experiences each event personally. Certain moments in the book are so well written that they hold on to your hearts and play with them till you happen to shed a silent happy tear. ike when how George thinks about holding the ladder for her best friend, Kelly, after Kelly gets cast in the high-flying role George wants: She “would be Charlotte’s Charlotte, deeply hidden in the shadows.” Elsewhere, the use of  escalating variations on an everyday word — “Oh,” then “Ohhh,” then “Ohhhhhhhhh” brilliantly depict the dawning way George’s older brother reacts to learning that his little bro is actually his kid sis. These moments are drawn with elegant restraint, even if other aspects of the book — like how George’s mom watches soap operas and George’s brother refers to “dirty magazines” — feel dated.

Though the use of theater backdrop to reveal self is an age old concept that happens to inspire people in real life as well. Its a clever technique wherein the child can safely unveil the real self and yet not be held an outcast. Theater allows both kids and adults alike to “be” other people and yet the opposite also stands true. Here one can be true because theater is the only place where we can be ourselves and also be accepted for the truth.

Also the author Gino’s choice of “Charlotte’s Web” resonates for another reason: Anyone who thinks children won’t believe that a boy knows he’s really a girl need only pick up “Charlotte” to be reminded that a barnful of talking animals never confused anyone.

 After reading “George,” I too pulled out my own  edition of E.B. White’s beloved novel and read this line: “Wilbur felt queer to be outside his fence, with nothing between him and the big world.” It brought to mind the ending of “George”: Kelly lets Melissa (George’s name for herself) ransack her wardrobe to get dolled up for a girls’ day on the town. But unlike Wilbur, Melissa is thrilled to venture outside her fence, where she feels like her truest self. Having found acceptance from Kelly, her mother and her brother, Melissa no longer needs to hide under boy clothes. She is free to be MELISSA.
Its a sweet, moving, profound novel with an insightful portrayal of a transgender child who comes to realise own gender identity and then surges ahead to connect with self on real terms.
You can listen to the author talking briefly about GEORGE and reading a short excerpt at TeachingBooks.

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