Author and students talk gender, family, belonging, writing, fishing and ice cream
Author Kyle Lukoff started his visit to Gordon by meeting with second grade.
Second grade does a yearlong study of picture books and how they represent diverse identities and a variety of experiences.
At the end of the year, second graders name the winner of the Gordon School Multicultural Picture Book Award.
Two years ago, Mr. Lukoff's book When Aidan Became a Brother won the award, and he read that book for second grade today.
When the second grade gathered, the back row had representatives from fourth grade who had helped name Aidan the award winner back in the day.
In When Aidan Became a Brother, Aidan is transgender, and Mr. Lukoff began today with a quick check of everyone's understanding of "transgender."
A second grader shared:
Transgender is when someone starts life as a boy, but they are girl.
Or if they start life as a girl, but they are a boy.
Or, if they don't have a gender and they just choose to be themselves.
A fourth grader expanded on that:
Transgender is when you are assigned at birth a certain gender, but you don't feel like you fit.
And you know it would feel better to be a different gender.
Generally it is masculine to feminine or feminine to masculine.
Mr. Lukoff's take was:
When you are born, people look at you and make a decision about whether you are a boy or a girl.
As you get older, you realize that that decision doesn't feel right for you.
Maybe everyone said you were a boy, but you feel more like a girl.
Maybe everyone said you were a girl, but you feel more like a boy.
Or maybe you feel like neither one of those words makes sense for you, and you want to find a new way of talking about yourself.
Mr. Lukoff read the book, and then went through it again and asked questions of the students.
Why do you think Aidan felt being a good big brother was extra important for him?
Why do you think Aidan might be wearing more masculine clothes on one page, but more feminine ones on another?
What mistakes might Aidan still make even as he tries his best to be a good big brother?
The answers went beyond gender, to include thoughts on leadership, advocacy, family and belonging.
Finally, a student asked Mr. Lukoff for his take on these questions. What was the message that he wanted people to take away from this book?
He answered thoughtfully:
That is a very good question, but unfortunately I don't have a very good answer.
Remember how you all had different ideas when I asked you about parts of the books? And I couldn't tell you that there was one right idea?
That's because I know that you are an entire human being and you are going to read this book and you're going to take from it whatever you bring to it.
Whatever your life experience has been, whatever lives in your heart, that is what you are going to get from this book.
When I write a book I have to let go of what other people think of it.
It was a powerful idea for these emerging authors.
For the record, the other questions included:
What's it like to be a writer?
How many books have you written?
Do you like fishing?
Do you relate to Aiden?
What's the name of your cat?
Do you have a favorite kind of ice cream?
What inspires you to write a book?
What is your favorite movie?
What is your favorite book that you have written?
What's it like working with an illustrator?
Mr. Lukoff was a school librarian before he became an author, and his experience showed in the patience and good humor he brought to the conversation.
Before he left, the fourth graders came up to present him with the medal for the 2020 Gordon School Multicultural Picture Book Award.
That year, the second grade had used these criteria for their decision:
A multicultural book teaches you to see other’s perspectives and experiences and be respectful of them
It makes you question injustices and stand up for those who don’ t have a voice or are not represented
It is about everyday experiences
It is about overcoming challenges and learning how to persevere
This year's second grade is about to begin the final rounds of their work on this year's award.
They will be bringing a bit of Mr. Lukoff's story, and Aiden's, with them in the process.
Mr. Lukoff stayed on campus to have lunch with Middle Schoolers and discuss his young adult novel Too Bright to See
He will be speaking tomorrow in North Kingstown at the We Are All Readers festival, a celebration of diverse books that also includes a storytime with Gaia Cornwall, who visited Gordon in 2018. The festival's organizers include Jeanette Bradley, who worked with Gordon students in 2020.