Publishers’ Preview: Diverse Voices Redux: Five Questions for Sarah & Ian Hoffman

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Voices Redux, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Jacob is a boy, but he has long hair and wears a dress. Which bathroom may he use? In Jacob’s Room to Choose, we learn the answer is only as complicated as you want it to be.

Photo: Signe Kurian.

1. Do you think we should just do away with gendered bathrooms?

When society changes, so do the bathrooms. Bathrooms used to be labeled “White” and “Colored.” We don’t see that anymore. Multi-user outhouses used to be common. We don’t see those anymore, either. Gendered bathrooms will shift as society’s thinking about gender shifts.

2. “I have to pee, so let me be!” speaks to us all, really. What does it mean to you?

It brings home the idea that everyone needs to use the bathroom and that no one wants to be hassled while they do so. Plus, it’s short, it’s snappy, and it rhymes.

3. What can parents of gender-conforming children do to help their kids understand children who are not?

Parents can make sure their kids’ schools are teaching positive messages about gender expression, and reinforce those lessons at home. The beauty of teaching gender-typical kids about gender-creative kids is that those lessons will help them accept people who are different from them in other ways, too.

4. Or is it the parents and other adults who most need an education?

Everyone needs the education. Our son’s preschool and kindergarten teachers conducted simple, age-appropriate lessons about gender. However, his elementary school administration was not supportive, and no school-wide education was done. In first grade, Sam was verbally and physically attacked by children who had not been taught to be kind in the face of unexpected difference. It takes work to create a tolerant and compassionate society, but it’s a worthwhile and rewarding effort.

5. Whoever you are, bathrooms can be scary. How can we help children feel safe?

One way for schools and public places to make a difference is to have all-gender bathrooms, removing the pressure to police who pees where. The most important thing adults can do is to teach that being different is perfectly acceptable.

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