LGBTQ+ Book Review: Max and Friends

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While presented in picture book format, these books are broken into short chapters, so they are excellent beginning-to-read books for early readers.  Book 1 takes place in kindergarten, Book 2 could be 2nd or 3rd grade, and Book 3 is upper elementary school as the children go on a school field trip and sleepover at a farm. The author, Kyle Lukoff, is a transgender man who has worked as a bookseller and as a school librarian.

Call Me Max (Max and Friends Book 1) by Kyle Lukoff, with illustrations by Luciano Lozano. Published by Reycraft Books, 2019.

This book review features a picture book series geared for pre-k through third grade, about a young transgender boy named Max and his gender expansive friends Teresa and Steven.

The story begins with Max, a young transgender boy, navigating his 1st day of kindergarten.  Max’s parents, still figuring it out, buy a pretty dress for the first day. Max loses the dress “at the bottom of the garbage can” and wears his favorite overalls instead. When the teacher calls attendance, she hesitates when she comes to a name listed on her attendance sheet…

(Quoting from the book)
She looked at me. And then at the list of names. And then back at me again.
“Can you call me Max?” I asked. Max is the boy in my favorite book. She nodded and wrote it down. (I won’t tell you what my old name was. That’s private.)

When Max needs to go to the bathroom after snack, which bathroom should he use? At home there is just one bathroom for everyone, and when he is out with either mom or dad, he goes in whichever bathroom is best for them. At school, Max first tries going into the girls’ bathroom, but a girl runs out scared that a boy has come into the girls’ bathroom. Max next tries going into the boys’ bathroom, but kids giggle and point when he comes out. Max decides to hold it for the rest of the day and tries not to drink too much water. Classmates want to know, is Max a boy or a girl? He tells his new friend Teresa that he wants to be a boy because he likes to climb trees and look for gross bugs. Teressa objects that she’s a girl who likes to climb trees and look for bugs. Max tells another friend Steven that he can’t be a girl because he hates wearing dresses. Steven is a boy who likes wearing dresses, so wearing dresses can’t be just a girl thing either. Max considers what he has learned from his new friends and comes to the awareness that he is a boy because that’s what he feels like on the inside. Max doesn’t think being a boy is better but being himself is best. Max shares his feelings with his parents, and they talk with Max’s teacher who helps them find a support group for transgender and nonbinary children like Max, and another support group for parents of transgender and nonbinary children like themselves.

Max and the Talent Show (Max and Friends Book 2) by Kyle Lukoff, with illustrations by Luciano Lozano. Published by Reycraft Books, 2019

This sequel to Call Me Max, is about Max’s friend Steven who loves to wear dresses, make up stories, and dress up in full costume when he tells stories. When Steven signs up for the school’s talent show, Max agrees to be his assistant. This is a perfect arrangement as Steven loves being the center of attention, while Max prefers to stay in the background. Max accompanies Steven and his mom as they shop for the perfect dress, shoes, tiara, and cape for Steven. On the day of the talent show, Steven is on stage, looking out at the crowd knowing he has prepared everything, except the one thing that matters most – his performance. Luckily, his good friend Max, standing backstage as his assistant, comes through with the perfect advice for his friend in need. Max whispers to Steven, “Tell them a story!”

Max on the Farm (Max and Friends Book 3) by Kyle Lukoff, with illustrations by Luciano Lozano. Published by Reycraft Books, 2020

This third book is an adventure story about Max and his friend Teresa, when their class goes on a field trip and overnight stay on a real farm. Teresa likes to play outside and get dirty, REALLY DIRTY. She is the type of girl who enjoys picking up and playing with worms. Teresa also doesn’t care about getting in trouble, she says it’s part of having fun. On the field trip, the school kids learn about all the animals, eat farm food, learn how to square dance, and finally go to bed sleeping in a hayloft. As Max is transgender; there are a couple of times in the story where he is misgendered and sent to the “girls’ side” with the teacher quickly and discretely making everything all right. It is nice to see a transgender character in a children’s story that doesn’t revolve around his identity. At the end of a very busy day, Teresa persuades Max to sneak out after dark in their pajamas with flashlights to see the baby pigs, and it turns into a dirty messy pig pen disaster – but maybe if they are lucky, they won’t get into too much trouble.

Follow this link to view author Kyle Lukoff talking about his “Max and Friends Series” with Wiley Blevins from Reycraft Books.

Kyle Lukoff has written other award-winning children’s books which feature transgender and nonbinary characters including: When Aidan Became a Brother, A Storytelling of Ravens, and Explosion at the Poem Factory.

This book review column was submitted by Stand with Trans board member Barb Shumer, who is a retired public librarian.

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