Just 5 Things with Alex Gino: Author of “George”

It’s been four months since my last blog post, but I am still here, still librarian-ing, but honestly reeling from a huge career change. Please accept this interview with the tremendous author, Alex Gino, as my sincere apology.

Next week, at ALA in Orlando, I’ll be moderating a panel called It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature, which features four authors I couldn’t be more super-pumped about: e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Alex Gino, E.M. Kokie, and Robin Stevenson. I thought it would be nice to use this blog as a platform to drum up some excitement for what I am sure to be is a powerful and fascinating discussion. In the next several days leading up to the conference, I hope you will enjoy a series of micro-interviews with these writers that I am thrilled to share the PopTop stage with. Let’s keep YA Queer, y’all.

I have already talked about introducing George to my new school’s fifth and sixth graders, and how special and privileged we were to have Alex Skype in with us. I’ll never forget how lucky I felt that our students could connect with Alex, who responded to their numerous questions with warmth, joy, honesty, and unending patience. After the Skype visit, a student said that she felt like she and Alex were friends now. Students don’t respond to every speaker in this manner, but that’s simply the impact of Alex’s radiant presence. If you haven’t seen Alex speak, I highly suggest you rectify that soon.

And now, I give to you, Just 5 Things with Alex Gino:

Ingrid Abrams: You were kind enough to Skype into my school to talk to my students about George and I know you’ve made lots of connections with your middle grade readers. Have you found any of your interactions with kids surprising?

Alex Gino: I’ve been surprised by the level of maturity and awareness I’ve experienced from kids. I had an 8th grader in Ann Arbor, MI introduce me to the term “gender-designated bathroom” which I love. Certainly, there’s a range of responses, but by and large, these kids have access to language and conversations I couldn’t have dreamed of as a child. I also find that kids tend to ask more interested questions than more adults do, but that doesn’t surprise me in the least.

IA:  Like me, you’re a glitter fanatic. If you had to survive on one color of glitter for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

AG: Really, you’re going to do this to me? I would have to go with traditional silver glitter. Which is not my favorite kind of glitter.  That would be purple. But silver glitter is more flexible. Also, I would like all glitter to be biodegradable and chemically-safe, please.

IA: You’re currently traveling the country in an RV, going to Chicago, NYC, and Richmond, among other places. What’s been your favorite stop so far?

AG: I’m not into “favorites”, because there are so many variables at stake, but I was surprised with how much I liked the Arkansas/Kentucky/Tennessee area.  Gorgeous rolling hills, stunning water, and I even enjoyed the cities I visited.  Chattanooga writers showed me a great time!

IA: What’s one thing you’d like educators to know about reading George with their students or library patrons?

AG: There is no age before which it is appropriate to learn more about yourself and others. Kids are already in the world, and are ready for the conversations.  You can meet kids at their developmental level without being condescending, and let them guide the conversation. Any fears you may have?  They’re yours.  Please don’t pass them on.

IA: Is there a book that got you hooked on reading?

AG: I was one of those annoying kids who read at 3, so I was hooked on reading the moment I was able to decode the letters on the page. But an early love was The Runaway Road by Stan Mack, about a highway that got bored of going to the mountains all the time, so it took a vacation to the beach, taking a family with it. Other childhood greats were Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Girl With The Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts.


I thought I’d conclude this interview with a picture that fills my heart with warmth and sparkles. Here’s Alex being totally doused in glitter after winning the Lambda Award for Children’s/Young Adult literature:

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I mean, really. This is too much.

Continue reading “Just 5 Things with Alex Gino: Author of “George””

Booktalking George, by Alex Gino: It kind of takes a village

When I started this blog, I was a public librarian with a clear mission for what I wanted to write about here. Now that I’m a school librarian who is settling into a whole new work culture, it’s become less apparent to me what I’m supposed to talk about on this blog, except to say, “This is really different from my last job and sometimes it feels like I have no idea what I am doing.” Though I have been a school librarian for almost 6 months, it somehow only feels like a couple of days. The newness has not worn off yet. Hence, the lack of blog posts.

I thought I would talk about how George, by Alex Gino, became a project that much of our Upper School became involved in: 2 sixth grade classes, me (the librarian), several teachers, and the school psychologist. It all started when the 5th and 6th grade teachers asked me to present some booktalks to their classes. First, I asked if I could include books that acknowledged the existence of gay and trans* people. This is what I mean when I say that I’m adjusting to a new work culture. I would have never asked if this was OK at the public library. It would never even occurred to me to do so. It was never an issue there, a place where I was heavily protected by the First Amendment and an environment that supported freedom of information. Schools, especially independent schools, are trickier places to navigate, especially for us rah-rah liberal librarians, and I felt compelled to ask permission. Luckily, the teachers were open to my book selections.

I presented several titles: Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (which none of them had really read, oddly enough. I know this is an obvious choice), Better Nate than Ever by Tim FederleThe Marvels by Brian Selznick (I showed this trailer), The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (another older title they hadn’t read), and George by Alex Gino. While we saw increased circulation on all the titles, George generated the most discussion. I couldn’t keep a copy on the shelves and students were constantly asking when they could get their hands on it.

Here’s how I booktalk George: I say that it’s funny that the book is called George, because it’s actually about a girl named Melissa. Melissa gets home from school every day and does some pretty stereotypically “girly” things: She reads magazines written for girls, puts on lip gloss, and combs her bangs down over her face. However, before her mom and brother come home, she must fix her hair, clean her face, and put the magazines back in their hiding place. You see, while Melissa has always known she is a girl, her family sees her as a boy named George.

This last line usually elicits a good deal of confusion, so I ask that if I said Melissa was trans, would they know what this means? When Melissa was born, she was assigned the male gender, but she never identified as such. The teachers and I found that while the students were certainly curious about trans* people, their only exposure to a trans person is Caitlyn Jenner. And while I’m grateful to Caitlyn for giving the students some sort of access point to discuss this topic, she’s certainly not the default experience.

When talking to the class, I referred to the author, Alex Gino, with the pronoun “they“. I explained that beyond she/her and he/him, there are a myriad of other pronouns, including they/them. I quickly realized that they had never heard of anything like this before. Caitlyn Jenner has exposed them to the idea of transitioning from one end of the gender binary to the other, but otherwise, they had no concept of people who exist in the middle (or outside the gender binary altogether).

I thought the booktalks would sort of be a one-off deal, but conversations around George kept sprouting up around the library and the classrooms. Students were asking me if I had anything else like George (I don’t, outside of a copy of Beyond Magenta in the inaccessible professional collection). I mentioned to Alex on Twitter that our students were obsessed with George and they suggested that we have a little Skype session to discuss how that was going. I appreciated this, as talking to kids about the book and trans-related issues was way harder than I had anticipated. They had questions and I had answers (or at least I thought I did), but how were we going to tackle all this in the limited time I, as the librarian, have with students?

Continue reading “Booktalking George, by Alex Gino: It kind of takes a village”

I am Reading this So Hard Right Now: George by Alex Gino

A little late on posting this, but here’s my review of George by Alex Gino in School Library Journal (scroll down to the first entry in the “Middle Grade” section).

If your library works with a Middle Grade population, I highly recommend you read and purchase this title.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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