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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
I'm Just Me! is a children’s social issues picture book written by Kody Christiansen and illustrated by Alexandrea Mallia. Other people may see her as a little girl, but the child in this story sees herself as something rather different. While she enjoys drawing, playing with her dolls and her dog, and spending time on the phone with her grandmother, her most favorite thing of all is putting on her dad’s firefighter boots and playing at being a fireman. Dressed in those boots and wielding her jump rope as a fire hose, she imagines being one of the firemen out there putting out blazes, being one of those real-life, everyday heroes. For a few moments, she actually is one of them. She can look in the mirror and see the young fireman she feels she is gazing back at her. Her dad is very supportive of his child; he gets the wish for action figures and realizes they have a bond that’s really more like father and son. The author gives readers a number of pages for coloring-in as well as blank pages where kids can explore their own identities by drawing themselves.
I'm Just Me! is a perceptive and eloquent look at gender identity, something often at odds with birth gender, as we watch a young girl interact in her imagination with her superhero role models, and her real-life hero, her fireman dad. I’m excited to imagine how freeing this book will be for kids who relate to the girl in the story. Transgender and genderqueer kids have few books dedicated to kids like them, and this book goes a long way to addressing that. One other thing blew me away in this book. Our young fireman is a lefty! The left-handed are often overlooked in seating arrangements, scissors, even the way their teachers tell them to slant their paper. They are all too aware that they live in a right-handed world. And while most righties won’t get this detail, I can’t imagine there’s a left-handed child out there who won’t light up, as I did, when they see our young fireman writing and wielding that fire hose left-handed.
Christiansen’s story is marvelous and Alexandrea Mallia’s illustrations magically transform our young fireman right before our eyes. I’m hoping to see more books for transgender and genderqueer kids, and their families and friends. It’s a perfect selection for story time and a grand primer for a new reader. Who am I? What inspires me? Kids can go far when they begin to think about and see the possibilities. I'm Just Me! is most highly recommended.