As a powerful form of media, children’s literature can help young people develop deeper and more nuanced understandings about gender, gender identity, and gender expression (Crisp, Gardner, & Almeida, 2017; Crisp & Hiller, 2011; Tsao, 2008). Gender identity is a person’s internal understanding of their gender, or “the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men… different from… binary categories of biological sex” (World Health Organization, n.d.). Gender expression denotes the ways in which we outwardly communicate our gender (Crisp, 2020; GLAAD Media Reference Guide, n.d.). Schema and stereotypes about gender identity and expression develop between the ages of three and five (American Psychological Association, 2015).
This article shares how Kerry Elson used children’s literature to explore gender identity with young children. Kerry is in her eleventh year of teaching and has been teaching in New York public schools for five years. She identifies as White, cisgender, and nondisabled. The population of the school where Kerry teaches kindergarten and first grade, Central Park East II in East Harlem, New York, is richly diverse in language, ethnicity, and the lived experiences of the community. Eighty-eight percent are students of color—about 47 percent Latinx, 31 percent Black, 10 percent interracial, Asian, and American Indian.