Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Biblio Bits Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, Simon and Schuster, 2007 (ISBN 9780416916222)

Reading Level/Interest Age 790 lexile/Ages 14+

Genre Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary
Grady used to be a girl called Angela. Angela grew up knowing she was really a boy inside and fully aware that she had to pretend to be a girl. But that only worked for so long. Now, as a sophomore, Angela makes the decision to change her name to Grady and begin to live and dress as a boy. This isn't easy, but neither was living a lie. Some people think this is just some ploy to get attention on Grady's part (like the school principal); others just can't understand Grady's decision and are confused, embarrassed, frustrated, and even angry with his new identity as a boy (like Grady's mom, sister, former best friend, and most of the kids at school). A few people stand out because they support Grady during this difficult transition, including Grady's dad, brother, the gym teacher, and a new friend, Sebastian. Grady must navigate some tricky waters here, from telling his teachers to call him by his new name to figuring out where to change for gym class.

Critical Evaluation
Wittlinger has created an astonishing book about a tough subject. Wittlinger makes Grady just a regular guy: his first crush, the importance of friends, dorky family traditions, and family tension. It's refreshing that this book avoids the cliche of violence, but there is a believable amount of bullying, teasing, and cruelty from Grady's peers. The best part of this book, besides for normalizing the issue of transgendered teens, is that it shows the importance of having even a few advocates and supporters during a transition time like this one. Grady is a character readers can empathize with, who makes a courageous choice to be true to himself. This is a theme that has merit for any young adult, whether or not they are transgendered.

Reader's Annotation
What if you never felt right in the body you were born into? That's how it is for Grady, who was born a girl but has always felt like a boy inside. Grady is ready to stop pretending. Is the world ready for Grady?

Author Information
Ellen Wittlinger was born in 1948 and grew up in Belleville, Illinois. She attended Milliken University (IL) where she majored in art and sociology. Wittlinger attended the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop for her graduate studies. She worked as a children's librarian in Swapscott, Massachusetts, which was how she became interested in writing for youth. Wittlinger has two grown children and lives with her husband in Swamscott. (Information for this author biography is from Gale's Contemporary Authors Online, 2008).

Challenge issues
There is some swearing in this book, but the main challenge for some will be the idea of a transgendered teen coming out.

Booktalking Ideas
The theme of how to be yourself and be O.K. with it is one that deserves repeating with tweens (see also Totally Joe)...over and over and over again. We could call the booktalk "I'm Different and I'm O.K.!" I would probably pair this title with Buddha Boy, Another Kind of Cowboy (Juby, 2007), Looks (George, 2008), and Stargirl (Spinelli, 2000), however, since they are more mature and serious. If a little levity was needed, I would also include My Most Excellent Year, since it adds a bit of humor to the theme of self-discovery.

Curriculum Ties
This would be a good book to tie into a health unit on sexuality for older middle schoolers. Students could read this book and discuss some of the issues it raises: gender vs. sexual identity, as well as the practical concerns (choosing a new name, family and friends, which bathroom to use, etc.). This discussion could precede a visit from a transgendered person, perhaps on a panel with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who might be willing to share their stories with students.

Why this book?
This is an important book in the cannon of queer literature for youth. Placing it in the hands of the right reader could, quite literally, save a life.

New York Public Library, Books for the Teen Age.

Rockport Public Library owns?

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