Pride Month Reviews/PPBF – The Fighting Infantryman

Title: The Fighting Infantryman, The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier

Author: Rob Saunders

Illustrator: Nabi H. Ali

 Publisher: little bee books, 06/02/2020

Ages: 4-8

Nonfiction:

Themes: transgender, solder, civil war, immigrant, infantryman, lgbtqia+, civil war history, primary sources, gender identity, war pensions, civil rights

Synopsis:

By the time she arrived in Belvidere, Illinois, and started working as a farmhand, Jennie had a new name and a new identity . . .

Albert D. J. Cashier.

In 1861, the winds of war blew through the United States. Jennie Hodgers, a young immigrant from Ireland, moved west to Illinois and soon had a new name and a new identity–Albert D. J. Cashier. Like many other young men, Albert joined the Union Army. Though the smallest soldier in his company, Albert served for nearly three years and fought in forty battles and skirmishes. When the war ended, Albert continued to live his life as a man. His identity fit him as snug as his suspenders.

Decades later, a reporter caught wind of the news that an old man in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home was actually a woman. The news swept through the country. What would happen to Albert and his military pension? Would he be allowed to continue to live as he wished? How would his friends, fellow soldiers, and others in the community react?

Opening:

Jennie Hodgers collected seashells along the windy shores of Clogerhead, County Louth, Ireland.

Why I like this book:

In this picture book, Sanders says of Albert D. J. Cashier that, “His identity fit him as snug as his suspenders.” And the way Cashier lived his life “was more than a choice. It was who Albert D.J. Cashier was.” Throughout, Sanders emphasizes the choices that Cashier makes to be true to himself. And while the author makes it clear in the afterword that it was not documented that Albert D.J. Cashier used the word transgender, the sources we have suggest that in 21st century lingo, this was most likely how Cashier would identify. This is the story of a brave man choosing to live his truth from his tweens onwards in a world that would mostly have been hostile to this truth.

I knew nothing about this transgender story, and I am very happy that the author and his publisher boldly chose for the subtitle, “The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier.” I sense that the subject would have been proud of this telling of his story from shepherding in Ireland to young immigrant fighting for the development of his new nation to included rights for all. I love how Sanders weaves the story of the young country and the young man evolving together. These struggles were neither easy for the young man nor the nation, “for a country trying to be what it was meant to be,” and, “a man trying to be who he was meant to be.” These parallels will, I think, help young readers understand how we change and evolve and how now in the 21st century, many/most of us acknowledge that slavery, bigotry, racism, transphobia are all wrong. What a wonderful text to read in these days of needing to raise our voices for the rights of ALL.

I found it moving and motivating to read of Cashier’s life and how at the end when his accident caused the revelation of his anatomy at odds with his gender identity, soldier friends and local Illinois friends supported him, his identity, and his legitimate claim to a civil war pension. Also, I am glad Sanders didn’t shy away from the inevitable misunderstanding and transphobia Cashier also faced.

There is a foreword by a an academic in Transgender Studies that identifies Cashier as a trans man, and I think while this biographical narrative mixes some speculation with its documented facts, it is a text that will help young readers further their understanding of gender identity through history. With the very current discussions in the media about J K Rowlings’ take on transgender women, I do think it is important to help young children understand the essential manhood (and courage) of a transgender man like Cashier, and Sanders uses words and definitions that can be understood by the audience of this book.

It is still a huge challenge to be transgender in the US military, so stories like this bring so much hope. This is a good gateway text to talk to elementary students about transgender men and women in history, their challenges, and their place among us.

Resources/Activities:

This book is published in partnership with GLAAD to accelerate LGBTQ inclusivity and acceptance.

This is a fantastic mentor text for elementary children on using primary sources, and what we can and cannot extrapolate. The back matter contains details, explanations, examples, and photos of the real Cashier; quotes from his friends and comrades taken during the investigation of his veteran’s status; a timeline; a short glossary of military and other terms; and a list of primary sources, one secondary article, and two books about gender identity.

Sanders is clear in an afterward about what we can and cannot know from the sources—that while transgender people have always existed, terminology has changed across time and cultures. Nevertheless, “it’s possible, even likely” that Cashier was transgender.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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Pride Month Book Recommendations – Me, Myself & Him

Title: Me, Myself & Him

Author: Chris Tebbetts

 Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2019

Ages: 14+/YA

Themes: lgbtqia+, divorce, alternative timeline, gay, fate, religion, parallel universe, humor, identity, adventure, friendship, lies, #ownvoices

Opening:

The last thing I remember is sucking down a lungful of gas and closing my eyes. My friend Wexler tells me that I set down the cartridge, stood up again, paused like I wasn’t going anywhere, and then fell over, almost slow motion, like a tree going down, until I landed face first on the cement.

Synopsis:

When Chris Schweitzer takes a hit of whippets and passes out face first on the cement, his nose isn’t the only thing that changes forever. Instead of staying home with his friends for the last summer after high school, he’s shipped off to live with his famous physicist but royal jerk of a father to prove he can “play by the rules” before Dad will pay for college. 

Or . . . not.

In an alternate time line, Chris’s parents remain blissfully ignorant about the accident, and life at home goes back to normal–until it doesn’t. A new spark between his two best (straight) friends quickly turns Chris into a (gay) third wheel, and even worse, the truth about the whippets incident starts to unravel. As his summer explodes into a million messy pieces, Chris wonders how else things might have gone. Is it possible to be jealous of another version of yourself in an alternate reality that doesn’t even exist? (publisher)

Why I like this book:

This novel is weird in all good ways. It tells a s story of parallel/alternate time lines where the author explores how our choices/lies can change our outcomes but not truly who we are. I was intrigued by the concept of parallel universes branching off from each other based on the decisions we make. A whatif scenario for teens. I was fascinated how Tebbetts chooses to let the reader create the physical characteristics of the main characters (but not the minor ones), as I love weaving this into my own stories.

Once I realized there would be two timelines, I wondered if I would be as invested in both outcomes, and I totally was. Both arcs were equally plausible and fulfilling and as I work with high schoolers, I can say were spot on with the sorts of topics, shortcomings, frustrations, temptations faced by typical eighteen year-olds. Of course there’s also some cool gay romance. The author has a real knack of pairing heavier life-frustrations with a light and humorous touch, which made the pacing stellar. Chris has a clear late teens voice and I like the creative formatting of charts and concept maps to illustrate his thought processes, which made me feel like he was more like his Physics-professor dad than he wanted to be.

I am guessing most readers will be rooting more for one timeline than the other, though Chris (and the other characters) grow through both. This is a fun gay coming of age story with family drama, and a high school graduate starting to deal with adult responsibilities and expectations, growing apart from friends, finding love, and reconnecting with his father after his parents divorced. The two timelines with their subplots are cleverly woven together so that the conclusion is the same.

Having made my fair share of dumb mistakes as a teen, I could totally relate to Chris blaming his dad for his problems. But it’s about much more than a teen making lying to cover his ass. It is romance, the changing of friendships as we head toward college, and choices. A grand read.

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The Meaning of Birds/Le Secret du Colibri – YA Book Recommendation

June Pride is upon us. And I am mourning the cancelation of New York’s March for the first time in 50 years. And it is their 50th anniversary! I have attended every year since moving here. But I still have the pleasure of spotlighting lgbtqia+ books on this blog during June. I read this one in French as the author kindly sent me two French copies (one published in Canada and one in France) for our bilingual school library. The original was written in English.

Title: The Meaning of Birds/Le Secret du Colibri

Author: Jaye Robin Brown

 Publisher: Harper Collins, 2019

Ages: 14+/YA

Themes: loss, death, grief, lesbians, lgbtqia+, suicidal thoughts, homophobia, trans phobia, fat-shaming, latin lesbian, sexual assault, #ownvoices

Opening:

Des mains, des coeurs, des câlins.

Synopsis:

Before, Jessica has always struggled with anger issues, but come sophomore year that all changes when Vivi crashes into her life. As their relationship blossoms, Vivi not only helps Jess deal with her pain, she also encourages her to embrace her talent as an artist. And for the first time, it feels like the future is filled with possibilities. After In the midst of senior year, Jess’s perfect world is erased when Vivi suddenly passes away. Reeling from the devastating loss, Jess pushes everyone away, and throws out her plans to go to art school. Because art is Vivi and Vivi is gone forever.

Desperate for an escape, Jess gets consumed in her work-study program, letting all of her dreams die. Until she makes an unexpected new friend who shows her a new way to channel her anger, passion, and creativity. Although Jess may never draw again, if she can find a way to heal and room in her heart, she just might be able to forge a new path for herself without Vivi.

Why I like this book:

If you like sad contemporary YA that still ends with hope, this is the book for you. Jess’s grief is palpable, and you can envisage the initial crush and development of the relationship through to its tragic end. From the cover I was expecting pure romance, which really it isn’t. It is, though, a really special book on grief and loss and one girl’s journey through it.

One of the strengths for me of this novel was the way the story was structured. The author alternates between past and present, revealing the falling in love and relationship evolution, alternating with the chapters after Vivi’s death. This plunged the reader into the moment by moment grief yet with the respite of the chapters about the burgeoning of lesbian love. The book chronicles the whole relationship to the point when Vivi dies. This structure allows for the reader to enter more fully into Jess’s grief process, I think.

Jess as a main character is so wonderfully flawed. She has anger issues and was in therapy for it but after Vivi’s death this not surprisingly flares up again. As with many going though raw grief, she uses good and less healthy means to process, including alcohol and weed. So much about Jess feels authentic, even down to her unhealthy pushing/trying to manipulate her girlfriend into having sex when she wasn’t ready. There are so many different kinds of secondary characters that we get to know during this story and all of them (Jess’ best friend Cheyanne, her sister Nina, her new friend Levi, and even her cat, Emma Watson) are all fully fleshed out and add something to Jess’s storyline.

There are so many different kinds of characters that we get to know during this story and all of them really add something important to Jess’s storyline. I especially appreciated the relationship between Jess and Greer. A healthy, non-familial, adult-teen friendship isn’t something you see in a lot of books. They are employer and employee, but there’s a real connection there, and I think that’s really important. Having this gay married couple be such an important part of the storyline added an important depth.

The relationship with her mom and the mom’s wisdom about grief and how to walk through it is lovely. The diversity of characters is great. There are several people of color, and queer characters. Also one character is ace and gets some flac for that.

I’d highly recommend this book on queer love and loss.

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