Picture Book Review: They Call Me Mix by Lourdes Rivas

They Call Me Mix/Me Llaman Masestre written in English and Spanish by Lourdes Rivas, edited in Spanish by Alicia Arellano, illustrated by Breena Nunez

From Goodreads: The story starts with Lourdes recalling childhood and noticing how gendered everything about existence is since before we’re even born. Lourdes points out how people create categories to make life easier but when it comes to people, gender categories can make life so difficult – restrooms, clothing stores, toy stores, sports teams, fitting rooms. They have a hard time even imagining where they’ll ever fit in.

Then they find queer and trans community where they feel empowered to reinvent language that works for them and we see them doing fun everyday things with friends like play games, watch movies, build bonfires, etc. It ends with the message that people who identify as non binary look, dress, and sound all kinds of different ways and that gender is something everyone can decide for themselves at any moment in time.

I kind of wish that sometimes I was braver and less shy and awkward when meeting people. We drove out to Oakland on a rainy Saturday to go to the Turn the Page Book Fair just so I could meet Lourdes Rivas and buy copies of their book. I don’t remember how I came across They Call Me Mix, but several months ago I came across it on Instagram and started following them. So when I saw that Rivas was going to be at this (kind of) local book fair I geeked out, did a happy dance, and announced that we’d be hopping in the car and driving the two hours to go.

This is such a needed and necessary book. It starts by explaining how Rivas’ gender was assumed at birth and then how they were pushed into gendered expectations around dress, toys, appearance, and interests. They then go into how they don’t feel like the gender they were assumed to be. Some days they’re no gender, some days they’re everything in between. They do normal everyday things like hang out with friends and gender doesn’t have to define that. Then Rivas talks about becoming and educator and how they talk about what it means to be non binary with their students. They validate that kids can play with how they want to identify and try out words to describe themselves. Rivas themself uses Mx. instead of Mr., Mrs. or Ms. (hence the title of the book).

The illustrations are soft and plain. I’m a sucker for rainbows (a hold over from my Lisa Frank and My Little Pony days) so I loved the cover from the moment I saw it. At first I wondered about the choice to have simple black and white line drawings, but I quickly realized the brilliance of this because the only colors are pastel pink and blue which really serves to highlight that gender binary and tap that part of our brain that has been taught to see gender as only male/female. I was shocked when my own daughter was about three and said something about pink being only for girls, despite my being explicit about colors being for everyone. That association is strong and I think it serves the book well to have the illustrations really draw our attention to what is going on.

I think I sound like a broken record saying this, but this book NEEDS to be on your shelves, at home, in the library, and in the classroom. You NEED to be creating welcoming, inclusive, accepting spaces for children to be their whole selves and live their truths and to play with their identities. The reality is, you may be a child’s only space to do that. And you are teaching other children who have gender privilege to see how others may not fit a binary and be open and accepting of all the ways people can be in this world. It’s also validating for kids, like me, that identify as female (or male), but don’t fit the stereotype. Even I kind of felt like something was wrong with me growing up for not liking dresses or caring about pink and purple (my favorite color has always been orange) or painted nails. Sharing books like this in read alouds, having them on your shelves, and encouraging children to visit them again and again is a critical piece of doing the work of breaking down white supremacy (the gender binary is a facet of white supremacy).

The book is also in both English and Spanish. Woohoo! That makes the book that much more accessible to kids and families. If you have a Spanish language collection in your library, get two copies, one for both your English and Spanish language kids shelves.

The traditional publishing industry sure isn’t stepping up and offering #ownvoices works around gender (or race or religion or ability or…) and we can’t be waiting around for them to get with it. I say this because, again, I know indie books can be a hard sell to administrations and book buyers. Beyond your students, patrons, or children who need to feel seen, I also think you may have teachers who also need to feel supported and welcome and need a book like this to help kids (and parents) who haven’t been exposed to nonbinary folks open the conversation. Everyone, from children to adults, deserve to feel seen, supported, and loved and having books that represent them and their experiences can help with that.

For as much of a book nerd as I am, I freeze when I meet these authors and illustrators. I’m so star struck. I have met movie stars before, no big deal. But kidlit celebrities, I can’t formulate a thought to save my life. I totally froze when meeting Lourdes Rivas and I’m sure I was super awkward, even though I went specifically to meet them! If you see this, Lourdes, hi, sorry I was weird. I just have such a soft spot for books that embrace all children and people and I cannot express how brave I think it is that you are out there sharing your experience, how much I appreciate you doing it, and how excited I am to get these books into kids hands.

New to the idea of breaking through the gender binary with children? Check out these three blog posts from author, illustrator, and artist Maya Gonzalez. She links to a whole curriculum she has created (some of which I have reviewed here and here) to create loving and inclusive spaces.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.