In the book “George” (grades 4-6, 240 pgs), George was born a boy, but she knows she is a girl. And when no one is around, she calls herself Melissa and reads magazines about clothes and makeup. These magazines are hidden, as are George’s feelings. As a fourth grader how does she tell those around her that she is actually a girl? How does she explain how much it hurts when her mom says “You will always be my baby boy”?
George is bullied at school and misunderstood at home, but when her class plans to perform Charlotte’s Web, George sees her chance to shine. She longs to be Charlotte.
George’s best friend Kelly is the first to realize George’s secret. She hardly skips a beat before embracing Melissa for who she is. Kelly is Melissa’s rock; she gets her through rough times, and when Kelly gets the part of Charlotte because George’s teacher certainly won’t let a boy have it, Kelly lets Melissa sneak on stage and play Charlotte for a night.
Melissa is marvelous, and while her mother is worried for her, she is proud. Melissa finally opens up to her mom and brother about who she is. Her brother Scott is accepting, but her mom is worried and not sure George is old enough yet to make such a choice.
Eventually, Melissa experiences the joy of having a moment to live seen by others as a girl.
“George” is a compelling story and an easy read for younger students. It teems with compassion and understanding but also with truth. George’s mom somewhat comes to terms with Melissa’s announcement, but she is still concerned about what Melissa’s life will be like.
Melissa has a best friend in Kelly, but the idea of revealing herself to the rest of the world is scary. George/Melissa’s story is only at the beginning, but it is an amazing reminder of the strength, resilience, and caring children can evince. (And a reminder of their capacity for cruelty.)
Melissa’s story reminds us as educators how vital it is for us to provide a safe space for all students. And it reminds us to be careful with our words, because even the simplest pronouns can hurt a child struggling to understand themselves.