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SPARKLE BOY by Lesléa Newman


by Lesléa Newman ; illustrated by Maria Mola

Age Range: 3 - 8

Pub Date: May 1st, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62014-285-1
Publisher: Lee & Low

Newman adds to her lengthy resume of LGBT–themed books for children with this story about sibling rivalry and gender nonconformity.

Despite the title, this book is not about Casey, the titular Sparkle Boy. It’s about his big sister, Jessie, and her ongoing attempts to bully, shame, and otherwise convince her little brother that “boys don’t wear shimmery skirts,” paint their fingernails, or otherwise accessorize. Casey’s parents and abuelita, indicated as a Latino or mixed family, are refreshingly supportive and kind, but Jessie’s anger overshadows much of the story. Readers never learn why Jessie feels such antagonism, with no space given for reflection or empathy, nor does Casey display much depth of personality beyond his ravenlike attraction to shiny things. Of course, Jessie has a sudden and clichéd change of heart at the very end, when she’s compelled to protect her brother against other children making identical accusations about his gender expression, and by the end the siblings “adore...each other.” With illustrations that are colorful yet subdued and stationary, there’s little to distinguish this story from other recent picture books about femme boys and trans girls who are forced to endure maltreatment from family, community, or both.

Multiple titles already explore nearly identical themes, and at this point any of them will suffice until the industry yields more interesting and nuanced portrayals. (Picture book. 3-8)