Broadhead, Talcott. (2013). Meet Polkadot. Olympia, WA: DangerDot Publishing.
As a non-binary genderqueer person, this is the book I’ve been waiting for, for what seems like forever. Part story and part educational resource, Meet Polkadot introduces a non-binary child and discusses nuances of gender identity, societal expectations, intersectional identities, and allyship. While it is in picture-book format, this book is appropriate for all ages, and indeed will be more useful for older children and adults.
Polkadot is a transgender child who does not identify as a boy or a girl. They talk to their big sister, Gladiola, about their gender identity and challenges they face as toys, clothing, and behavior are put into boxes by society. Gladiola is a girl who “just knows that she is a girl because people know what is true about themselves.” Polkadot teaches her about the gender binary and how uncomfortable it is to be forced to check a box when neither box fits.
One of my favorite quotes is when Polkadot exasperatedly says, “Toys don’t have a gender! They are toys! In a bathroom I don’t need to use a gender, I need to use a toilet.” This simple statement could be so helpful to children who should feel free to play with the toys they want to, as well as for adults wrestling with understanding transgender issues such as restroom safety.
Polkadot has a friend named Norma Alicia who explains that there are more identities than gender. Norma Alicia is a brown girl who speaks Spanish, who helps Polkadot understand that people have multiple identities that are all important and a vital part of themselves. The three friends talk about how each person is an expert on their own identity, and how they can be allies to each other.
After the simpler dialog portions, the last few pages are focused on defining gender identity and biological sex. These portions are excellent for their clear language, factual information, and accurate wording. Gender identity is defined as “what you know and feel to be true about your gender.” This is such a lovely and accessible definition—I think that all ages of people could understand this. Biological sex is defined as the parts a person’s body has, and things like chromosomes, hormones, and physical body parts are explained. Importantly, both gender identity and biological sex are described as “normal and great” no matter what they are.
Finally, there are some wonderful and simple tips for how to be an ally to transgender people, followed by an author’s note encouraging readers to dismantle, disrupt, and rebuild ideas about gender.
Meet Polkadot is a complex and beautiful book. Many pages are very text-heavy and would be impossible for young children to fully grasp. This is not to say that it is not appropriate for all ages. The story portions are very accessible to young children, and the bits that are too wordy can be enjoyed for the gorgeous art and then understood in trickles over time. I could see this book being a long-term family piece that is read over time, with children gradually understanding more as they explore their own gender identity. Adults will likely get a lot out of it as well.
This book would have benefitted from more detailed editing; I saw several typos. However, only overbearing grammarians like myself will notice this, and it certainly does not take away from the impact of the message. The content is frankly amazing and potentially life changing for readers who do not identify as a binary gender, parents of gender nonconforming children, and allies. The art is also worth a mention; each page is lovingly hand painted with soft, rich colors and detailed pictures.
Talcott Broadhead is a genderqueer parent, social worker, activist, and educator. You can find out more about them at http://www.talcottbroadheadmsw.com/ and more about Meet Polkadot at http://dangerdot.com/.