NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – Clifford the Big Red Dog. Captain Underpants. Harry Potter. All are books offered to grade school-aged children by Scholastic, one of the largest publishers of children's books in the world.
Joining Scholastic's lineup of "new classics" this fall is George, with its white book jacket and the name of the title character spelled out in the colors of the rainbow.
George is a book aimed at confronting students in the third through seventh grades with one of the great quandaries of modernity – sexual identity and transgenderism. Psychologists call such thinking "gender dysphoria." Still, the book carries the subtitle, "Be who you are."
And who is George, but Melissa?
The book describes the quandary faced by an eight-year-old child growing up during the height of America's second sexual revolution – at a time when the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage and the U.S. military has announced plans to include transgenders in the armed forces.
George begins to question who he really is, according to the description of the work, when he is confronted with a crisis of desire. It is not sexual desire, for he is far too young for that. The crisis is that George wants a part in the class play generally reserved for a girl.
According to Scholastic:
"When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.
George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all."
The book was written by gay rights activist Alex Gino, who describes himself as a "progressive middle grade novelist." He also claims to be a "fat queer activist, glitter liberationist, urban gardener, and then some."
Reviews of the book from the leftward-leaning publications have been uniformly positive.
Entertainment Weekly called the book "timely" and worthy of parents "to share and discuss with their children, whether dealing with similar issues or simply to foster understanding. Though recommended for readers age 9-12, preteens might find their own experiences have surpassed prepubescent George's. Hopefully that only encourages publishers to turn this thoughtful novel into a very necessary series."
The book was also praised by the New York Times, which claimed, "From the first paragraph, an omniscient narrator refers to George as 'she,' so that when other characters use male pronouns to refer to George, it feels jarring."
Publisher's Weekly described the book as illuminating. "George's joy during stolen moments when she can be herself will resonate with anyone who has felt different, while providing a necessary window into the specific challenges of a child recognizing that they are transgender. Profound, moving, and – as Charlotte would say – radiant, this book will stay with anyone lucky enough to find it."
The book, according to the New York Times, is one of a half-dozen books being releaded this year that feature transgender or gay characters as the hero or heroine, or whichever term the author deems acceptable.
According to LifeSite News, Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council said the book will only "create gender confusion, add greater confusion to the struggles that in the ordinary course of things most children will have."
"Research shows ... that most children who struggle with gender identity issues actually have those issues resolved before adulthood, and do not change their gender identity from their biological sex at birth," Sprigg said.
Scholastic's editorial director David Leviathan – himself a homosexual activist and author who has written about his gay partners – said the company provided 10,000 copies of the book to teachers around the country in the hope they will share it with their classes. That leaves another 40,000 copies from the original press run up for grabs by children who attend school book fairs and may not be aware of what they are purchasing.
"Fifty thousand is pretty amazing for a debut author writing a middle grade book that isn't part of a series," Leviathan told NPR in an interview. "No wizards, no Greek myths, no action adventure. It's just one girl's story."