Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review - Phoenix Goes to School

Phoenix Goes to School
by Michelle Finch & Phoenix Finch
illustrated by Sharon Davey
Date: 2018
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book memoir
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

My Mommy tells me I'm perfect and to be brave.

"You know who you are," she says,

"Just be yourself and always listen to your heart."

With those words of encouragement from her Mom, Phoenix is preparing for her first day of school. She is excited but scared of being bullied because of her gender identity and expression. Yet when she arrives at school she finds help and support from teachers and friends, and finds she is brave enough to talk to other kids about her gender!

This is an empowering and brightly-illustrated children's book for children aged 3+ to help children engage with gender identity in a fun, uplifting way. It supports trans children who are worried about being bullied or misunderstood.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a short little picture book memoir by 7-year-old Phoenix Finch, written with the help of her mom, Michelle. In it, she talks about the first time she went to school wearing a dress and the emotions surrounding that event.

While I appreciate the book and its premise as an adult reader, I'm not sure if kids are really going to get it. Phoenix does talk about how, when she was born, the doctors told her parents she was a boy. But that's about as deep as the transgender issue gets, and we're basically left with a story about a little girl who wears a dress to school. That kind of makes for a weak plot, especially for those who don't really understand the significance of what Phoenix is doing. (Also, Phoenix worries that she might get teased or bullied for wearing a dress, but she doesn't. I realize this is a memoir about her own experiences, but it might not be so helpful for kids who are bullied because there's not much advice about how to deal with such a situation, other than to be brave.)

The illustrations are okay, but they're not really my style. They've got that sort of look to them that almost makes one wonder if they were drawn by a child. (They're too consistent for that, but still... I'm not a fan of this particular type of illustration.)

I have a feeling that this is one of those books where kids will either just accept the premise and go with it, or they'll need a lot more explanation from an adult. For that reason, I'm not really sure if I'd recommend it to a general audience. It would be great for other transgender or gender non-conforming kids, but even then probably only as a book to show them they're not alone. (As a teaching tool for cisgender children, I'm afraid there might not be enough explanation.)

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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