In What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns (Little, Brown, June), written by Katherine Locke and illustrated by Anne Passchier, Ari and their uncle Lior walk through Ari’s neighborhood, learning the words other people use to describe themselves, including pronouns like she and her, he and him, they and them, ey and em, and ze and zir. Ari also ponders their own words—pronouns, and also descriptions such as excited and thoughtful.
Locke’s aim wasn’t so much to explain “this is what a pronoun is, and how it functions in a sentence,” they say, but rather to offer an inclusive narrative. “It’s an introduction to pronouns, and also a book that feels comfortable and open to people who maybe haven’t talked about pronouns with their kids, or who don’t have friends who are trans or nonbinary or gender nonconforming.” PW spoke with Locke about approaching the subject of identity with young readers.
What are you conveying through Ari?
I wanted to show a kid who knew that they maybe weren’t always using the same pronouns that they might’ve been given at birth, but who was still thinking about their words and discovering who they are. That’s realistic. A lot of kids don’t know who they are when they’re kindergartners.
Why did you choose to broach this subject in a picture book?
It’s important to be starting these conversations early. We’re seeing more kids who are using a variety of pronouns and who might be identifying as trans or non-binary or gender fluid at younger ages. I wanted to give those kids language and a chance to see themselves on the page. I wanted to give their peers language. But also, a lot of younger kids are comfortable with pronouns and will read the book and it will make sense. The book is also giving language and context to parents, teachers, and librarians. It’s a safe title for them to step into and start having those conversations.
What challenges did you face in crafting the book, and where do you think it best succeeds?
One of the challenges of writing this book was making sure that the driving question of the story wasn’t Ari wondering who they were but rather what words fit them in this moment—making sure it wasn’t too existential. I wanted to ground it in this day, this moment, with this kid. I wanted to focus it around pronouns vs. a gender label. Anne did an incredible job with the art: I love the variety of words and adjectives on the page, and how we included pronouns as just one of many words that describe us.
What do you hope young readers will take away?
For readers who identify with Ari, I hope that they know that their identities are not fixed and that they are welcome to experiment with different labels, different words, and different pronouns as they figure out who they are. It’s a lifelong process. For kids who might be cis and might be comfortable in their identity and their words, I hope that this book helps them see that pronouns are not a scary, complicated thing. I want those kids to see the fluidity and the complexity of everyone around them.