Full disclosure: I am a Jonathan Van Ness stan. I find him an absolute beacon of joy and goodness in an otherwise cynical cess pool of existence. Fuller disclosure: I tend toward the dramatic.
I don’t typically gravitate toward celebrity-penned picture books for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here. BUT. Being that I adore the pants off JVN, I was excited to see he was releasing a picture book (with pictures by Gillian Reid) that addressed gender identity and pronouns.
In this book we meet Peanut, a gender non-binary guinea pig who dances to their own rhythm. Or, more specifically, their own rhythmic gymnastics routine. Pow! We follow Peanut as they prepare – with the help of their family – for their big performance debut. This story is warm and gentle, with just a hint of non-traditional gender roles that make it all the sweeter.
But I want to be honest: as much as I’m like “Jonathan Van YES!”…the story didn’t initially live up to my expectations. Don’t get me wrong; I liked it. It’s good! But I wasn’t particularly blown away. Until…
The second read-through. When my daughter started correcting me.
I read a couple passages into the book, then thought I heard her small voice say, “he”. I continued to read, and she said it again. I stopped to ask, “What did you say?”
“You keep saying ‘they’, but it’s a boy. It’s he.”
AH-HA, JVN you miraculous magician of storybook sorcery! It was the perfect jumping off point to talk to her about pronouns and gender identity – to the extent a 4-year-old grasps the topics. But that’s the thing about small kids, and why it’s imperative to start having these conversations early: they believe so much of what they hear. Which – scary, a little – but it also presents amazing opportunity. If trusted loved ones are purposeful in what they speak about to the children in their lives, their voices can potentially help guide the development of loving, accepting, empathetic, thoughtful human beings. And the world could always use more of those.
Read this to your kids. Talk to them about the vast spectrum of people in the world and show them that even if something seems “different”, that’s OK. And more than that – it’s good.
Peanut Goes for the Gold by Jonathan Van Ness, pictures by Gillian Reid. ©2020. Haper, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.