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This picture book is for kids ages 4-8, so why is Ari nonbinary?

The simple answer is that every child deserves to be a main character. They deserve characters that represent them. They deserve to feel seen in stories. They deserve shelf-space.

It's important to draw a clear line separating gender identity from orientation too. Children are children. And in childhood conversations about gender identity or gender expression are not in any way conversations about adolescence or orientation.

Less obvious, sometimes, is the understanding that gender identity is a social construct. Gender stereotypes are developed and maintained within societies. Some characters, like Ari, simply don't identify with those gender constructs. They don’t identify as strictly male or female. They might feel like they’re both genders or neither gender. They might use different pronouns like "they/them" instead of "he/him" or "she/her."

It took a while, but Ari set me straight, and I eventually listened. 

When I wrote an early version of this story, my sons were toddlers. Initially, I was writing stories for my boys. Early on, Ari was called Artie, a young boy, in a story called Artie and the Babbling Birds. But the dust wouldn’t settle in the story.

So I rewrote it. I turned the rhyming verse into prose. Bad move! That kicked up more dust. I reverted immediately back to verse, but something wasn’t right. I kept at it. I edited the story to half its length. That was a good move! The story was getting stronger, but it wouldn’t settle around my main character, and I still couldn’t figure out why.

I tried making my protagonist a little girl, but the dust wouldn’t settle on her either. I kept thinking that Ari wasn’t stereotypically a boy or a girl, and I realized they didn’t need to be, or want to be, strictly one or the other. Ari was letting me know they didn’t identify as “he” or “she.” After all that, Ari became the lovable nonbinary character they are today. Everything fell into place.

When I learned to listen, Ari told me they were nonbinary in the way that characters let writers know things, in the way that dust won’t settle on a story until it’s right.

Having said all that, Ari is a kid doing kid things. This isn’t a story about gender. Ari is simply identified in the story by their pronouns, without putting their gender under scrutiny. A stable and loving family affirms that Ari is both safe and supported to be uniquely themself.

Ari is nonbinary the way Casey was gender neutral on Dr. Dressup. I know your kids aren’t familiar with Casey and Finnegan, but you might remember them.


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