Riley Reynolds Crushes Costume Day…

written by Jay Albee, Published by Stone Arch Book, 2022

Fourth-grader Riley is a kid who loves lot of things: their parents, cousins, friends, all kinds of animals, making cool stuff (as well as messes), and most importantly being nonbinary and unconditionally accepted by family and friends. In this first book of a new early chapter book series created by Jay Albee (pen name for Jen
Breach and J. Anthony), Riley is excited about costume day at school where kids are invited to “dress like your favorite character.” After a creative exercise with school librarian, Mx. Aude, Riley puts their imagination to work and helps kids who are having trouble coming up with costume ideas. Riley and their neighborhood friends even organize time to work on making costumes together. Riley, Lea, and Cricket decide on a group costume, where they will represent characters from the picture book, Prince and Knight, a queer fairy tale by Daniel Haack. Cricket will be the prince, with his construction paper crown covered with tiny aluminum foil stars, Lea will be the knight, with her costume of pulled-apart cardboard cereal boxes in aluminum foil, and Riley will be the dragon, with shiny green paper for fearsome scales, sharp cones for dragon horns, and a paper-mâché dragon head with gnashing white teeth, bared roaring lips, and glaring yellow eyes. Other children dress up in characters from other LGBTQ+ friendly titles, including The Princess in Black and the
Mermaid Princess, by Shannon and Dean Hale, and Melissa (previously published as George), by Alex Gino.
The last chapter, “And Then It Was Friday” is costume day with the children parading their fantastical costumes.

Also highly recommended are additional books in this chapter book series: Riley Reynolds Glitterfies the Gala, Riley Reynolds Rocks the Park, Riley Reynolds Slays the Play, Riley Reynolds Pumps Up the Party, Riley Reynolds Slides into Summer, and Riley Reynolds Takes Care of Business. These early chapter books are an important addition to children’s literature as they are perfect for beginning and early readers, and because there is so much representation in the series. As a mixed-race kid, transgender author J grew up around a lot of mixed-race kids and was exposed to the idea of a lot of different
cultural environments. J writes, “exposure to a variety of experiences is also exposure to a variety of possibilities. It invites us to bring imagination and understanding to other people’s experiences.” These Riley Reynolds books allow transgender kids of all races and cultural backgrounds to see themselves reflected in stories, and for others to be exposed to people different from themselves. Although these are early chapter books and not picture books, comic-style illustrations at the end of each chapter reflect the action of the story. Riley is biracial, with a Mexican mom and a White dad. Each book begins with two comic-book style pages titled “I’m Riley,” where Riley introduces themself, followed by two additional comic-book style pages titled “Mx. Aude Teaches Helpful Terms,” giving definitions related to
gender and queer identities. Other than these initial introductory pages, gender identity is never mentioned, with Riley’s nonbinary identity as well as their friends gender identities being completely incidental to the stories. At the end of each book in this series, there are discussion questions as well as writing prompts, to further extend the learning and fun.

Jay Albee is the joint penname for an LGBTQ+ couple named Jen Breach and J. Anthony. They write, “For both of us Riley is somewhat aspirational: a healthy, loved kid with an uninhibited imagination and full support, but still in a real, grounded world, with all the problems and worries of a kid. The Riley Reynolds series is about connection, community, and possibilities. If a reader picks up one of these things, that’s great, but the real spirit of Riley is inclusion, a invitation to “come as you are” – so whatever a reader takes from the books is
welcome, especially if it is something we couldn’t have imagined.“
This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans advocate Barb Shumer, who is a past board member and retired public librarian.

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