“Boys are strong and girls are pretty…” Why we need books like ‘A House for Everyone’

This is the second book from Jo Hirst, author and mother of a trans child. She is a board member of the group Parents of Gender Diverse Children and a well-known trans advocate in Australia, where she lives. Here, she reflects on the importance of having books like ‘A House for Everyone,’ that break down gender stereotypes and encourage children to be who they want to be.

All children deserve to see themselves reflected in picture books. It helps all of us to feel connected to our community and our wider world when we see ourselves included in media, films and books.

When I wrote my first book, The Gender Fairy, it was to help young transgender children, like my own child, feel normal and not so alone. It was also to help their friends gain a bit more understanding to help support their peers at school. Nothing makes me happier than seeing children who are thriving because they are completely supported as themselves.

Now that our society is gaining a greater understanding of gender diverse children, we are seeing more families and schools supporting kids to be themselves than ever before. The Royal Children’s Hospital, in Melbourne, Australia, puts the number of transgender children in our schools at 1.2% conservatively. That’s at least one in every hundred children, in every school. The Telethon Kids Institute in Australia released research in 2017 that told us that 48.6% of the young people they surveyed, identified as non-binary. That is, not identifying as exclusively male or female. We have experience and research that tells us that when families, communities and schools support transgender children, they have the same mental health and academic outcomes as their peers. Alternatively, we also have extensive research that shows us the dangers of not supporting transgender youth.

I’m privileged enough to see the positive benefits and positive long-term outcomes of affirming and supporting transgender young people through the families I talk to in Australia and around the world.

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A Light Touch – Understanding Autism

Jonas Torrance provides creative therapy & behaviour support for autistic children. His first book, Therapeutic Adventures with Autistic Children: Connecting through Movement, Play and Creativity is published by JKP on 21st May. Here, Jonas describes a case study in which a little understanding went a long way.

Jamie, an autistic boy, is in maths. The boy behind him begins to absentmindedly stroke Jamie’s back with a pencil. He lets the pencil drift up, and then back down. Jamie starts twisting in his seat, shouting and tearing off his clothes. The maths lesson descends into chaos.

A few days later, Jamie is able to explain why he was so distressed – the sensations of the pencil on his back made him think that the whole back wall of the classroom was collapsing, and that he was about to be crushed to death.

autistic childrenThese days there is a good deal of understanding around the sensory issues that autistic children face. Ear defenders, for example, have become a common accessory for those with sensitivity to sound. But it’s important to realise that, to the autistic child, the ear defenders are not simply useful for reducing noise levels. The tightness of the headphones is also a factor – for some children this pressure gives them the sense of their heads being held together and contained. Continue reading

PDA by PDAers

Fittingly, Sally Cat’s first ever blog piece is about her first book, PDA by PDAers, which is out now. Here, she describes how the online support and discussion group that fuelled the book came about and flourished, despite her PDA sometimes getting in the way. 

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for a while.  I’m good with words, have opinions and an understanding of PDA, but my PDA (pathological demand avoidance) has actually scuppered me into a kind of helpless paralysis. Demand Avoidance has told me that blog writing is “too difficult”.  It says, “you’ll get lost and waffle on irrelevantly”; “people will be bored”; “it would take up too much time” and this negative brush with which my subliminal demand avoidance has painted the concept of blog writing has left me feeling terrified of even trying.  However, JKP have invited me to write a blog to coincide with the launch of my book, PDA by PDAers, and (after much avoiding and, in facing it, feeling physically sick) here goes!PDA

PDA to me is a wondrous, many faceted beast.  I equate it to a tiger in the introduction to PDA by PDAers where I say that thinking of PDA as merely comprising Demand Avoidance is akin to thinking of tigers as comprising only stripes.  We PDAers, as I have come to know us, have metaphorical teeth, claws and bodies finely honed for leaping too. We experience extreme, hard-wired anxiety, which we tend to feel compelled to mask (for, I believe, equally hard-wired reasons).  We fight injustice and fearlessly defend victimised people and animals. We have wonderful imaginations and breadth of lateral thinking. We have our own minds and think out our own, well-considered codes of ethics. We are vulnerable though to social pressures and need personal control and quiet space in order to thrive.  There is a myth-conception amongst the few who are aware of PDA that we feel no shame during meltdown, but this is untrue. Melting down is involuntary and we observe ourselves in mute horror then, once our meltdowns are over, tend to hide our shame behind involuntary masks. Continue reading

Life after “He’s Always Been My Son”

Since HE’S ALWAYS BEEN MY SON was released I have been traveling to promote my book, share my experiences of raising a transgender child, and educate about gender. During my travels I have had the pleasure of meeting the most wonderful people.

One family drove an hour to attend my book talk at a bookstore in Corte Madera. They had heard about the book and wanted to meet me. They sat in the front row. When it was book signing time they were among the first in line. The young man of the family was beaming through his bright blue eyes and a flashing wide smile as I signed his book and chatted with his mom. When I looked up at him he looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m transgender!”

He said this with such pride! I thanked him for telling me and his mom and I shared a glance, a “momma pride” glance, that made my eyes well up. (If the family I am talking about is reading this please contact me, I’d love to share a photo that someone took of us together at the book signing.)

I had a very different, but no less meaningful encounter at another book talk. Sadly, this was not a “feel-good moment” like the one I had shared with the prideful transgender boy. The person who approached me this time was clearly nervous and his voice was filled with emotion. He told me it was difficult for him to listen to my talk as he has always felt very confused in regards to gender. He said he had long wished that he didn’t have to be defined by gender—he just wanted to be a person. He said that while growing up he did not have any understanding of his inner feelings, and he wished that the world had been different. He was reticent to read my story as he felt it might be too upsetting to read about someone who was so lucky, someone such as my son who had the support and understanding needed to navigate his gender journey and transition at an early age.

I listened and offered support as best I could, but I could see that he was conflicted. Sometimes, even with all the best of intentions, people can feel left out. This person said he feels it might be too late for him to “go there” and explore his gender identity at this point in life. I suggested some books written by trans people who transitioned late in life, and also some written by people who have chosen not to transition. I acknowledged that each person’s journey is unique and I thanked him for taking the time to tell me his story. I hope that my listening helped him in some way.

This is why I do my work. I hope that sharing my family’s story and educating people about gender will lead to greater understanding and acceptance. And I hope that one day all transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people will feel supported, respected, and understood. May all beings be as comfortable and proud of their gender identity as my young friend with the big smile and bright eyes.

Janna Barkin

How can we put Character Education into practice?

character education classroomFrederika Roberts and Elizabeth Wright discuss Character Education as a way of helping children to develop positive values and emotional resilience, and provide an example of how it can be practised in the classroom. They are the authors of Character Toolkit for Teachers, publishing 21st May, which contains 109 practical activities for making Character Education accessible to teachers.

We have seen a Year 4 boy who couldn’t sit still for a couple of minutes complete a 3-minute breathing meditation and experience incredible joy and pride at this achievement.  A year 5 girl told us that focusing on gratitude and simple meditation techniques helped her overcome her severe panic attacks.  A year 4 girl told us that learning about resilience helped her deal with her parents’ separation.  A year 8 girl decided, after a week of working with us on aspects of her character, that she would ask her parents for a new running coach and aim for the Tokyo Olympics.  The seeds we, as educators, plant in children’s minds can create wide-ranging ripples throughout their lives, and the lives of those around them.  All we have to do is start somewhere. Continue reading

PDA Action Day – Positive PDA

PDA day

The PDA Society are encouraging everyone to mark today, 15th May, as PDA Day! The theme is ‘Positive PDA’ and in keeping with that, they’ll be focusing on success stories, recognising all those who are making great contributions to the PDA world, highlighting some of the positives of living with PDA and showcasing the accomplishments of adult PDAers. As well as this, you’re all invited to get involved by fundraising, sharing stories, or joining their peaceful protest.

We’re joining in by sharing some of the resources we’ve published over the years, and a sneak peek at what’s coming up throughout 2018. PDA has been a big focus for JKP this year, and will continue to be as more is learned and understood about the diagnosis, and more stories are shared. So, take a look through our old, new, and upcoming books on PDA.  Continue reading

Weight Expectations: One Man’s Recovery from Anorexia – Extract

anorexiaAhead of its publication next month, here is an exclusive extract from Dave Chawner’s upcoming title Weight Expectations: One Man’s Recovery from Anorexia. This extract has been pulled from the first chapter.

Hi, I’m Dave. Welcome to the book, it’s lovely to meet you. Grab a seat, have a cuppa and make yourself at home. (Nice top, it suits you… No, really, it does.) Are you comfy? You sure? OK, I’ll stop fussing.

You might be wondering who I am (don’t worry, you’re not the only one; my agent does too). I’m a stand-up comic. This is the book of my show Normally Abnormal.  It’s all about how I slipped into anorexia, and how I got out. Basically, it’s an explanation of eating disorders from the inside looking out.

Please don’t leave!!! Don’t worry, this IS NOT some proper drab pity party.  Eating disorders are serious, but that doesn’t mean we have to be. This isn’t ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ (I’m vegetarian, so that’d be wrong on so many levels). My mum always used to say, ‘Life’s all about the journey, not the destination.’ She told me to focus on the journey and forget about the destination (which is how she lost her job as an ambulance driver).

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Why can’t people talk about their mental health?


Dave Chawner, author of Weight Expectations, is a mental health campaigner, an award winning stand-up comedian and anorexia survivor. In this blog, he addresses the stigma around mental health and the damage it causes. 

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, so we’ve got to talk about stigma. It’s kind of the rule – you can’t talk about anything to do with mental health without talking about stigma. Personally, I don’t like talking about stigma because the more you talk about something (even by negation) the more you entrench it. I’ll give you an example, if I said to you “don’t think of a blue pig” I know you’d instantly think of Boris Johnson. A lot of people reckon it’s stigma that stops people talking about their mental illness, and maybe it is, however I also think it’s to do with guilt.

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