Blog Posts

Affirming Transgender Students with Calvin

Calvin by JR and Vanessa Ford. Illustrated by Kayla Harren

Children have a way of demonstrating the confidence and curiosity necessary to have courageous conversations better than most adults. Their words may not always be tactful, but a child’s sense of what’s fair and how to make space for others can strike at the heart of most matters. Such is the case with Calvin, written by JR and Vanessa Ford, parents of two children including one who self-identified as transgender at the age of four.

Readers get a peek early into the story of how Calvin identifies by the illustrations he shares on his family’s refrigerator.

What I love about this story is the way it positively models for parents, educators, and students alike the simple and straight-forward ways we can embrace trans community members, whether at home, in a classroom, or in the workplace. Throughout the book, Calvin is met by community members who have taken simple steps to prepare themselves and their shared space to affirm him and his identity. We meet pre-summer Calvin on the very first page with the words, “For as long as I could remember, I knew I was a boy.” Shortly after Calvin reveals himself to be “a boy in my heart and in my brain,” Calvin is embraced by his immediate family who take steps to make sure Calvin feels comfortable in his own skin. This is done by providing him gender-affirming clothing and through intentional introductions to extended family members and others who, in turn, embrace him as well. Calvin’s initial fears of rejection and misunderstanding are increasingly chipped away as classmates, educators, and even strangers make space mentally and physically, affirming to Calvin that he is welcome.

The importance of modeling empathy and understanding for transgender youth and the transcommunity at large can not be overstated. Boston Globe Columnist, Renée Graham has dedicated recent articles to the waves of anti-transgender violence and legislation taking root across our country. In her December 19th column alone, Graham shared fourteen short vignettes of transgender and non-binary persons whose lives were cut short this year by violence toward them and their fellow LGBTQ community. In each she shares their humanity through the gifts they possessed and brought forth to their community and the world. In a world where such hate and discrimination gathers outsized attention, modeling and raising awareness of empathetic gestures of inclusion carried out everyday across our country is critical to combating it. 

Calvin is the most recent picture book in a growing collection (including Jack, Not Jackie reviewed by TBR blogger, Patti Shepherd) exploring the diversity and layers of the LGBTQ+ community. You can learn more about Calvin and the Ford family’s work advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, particularly for transgender youth by visiting their website: or at their facebook page and twitter handle.

Leave a Reply