In Sparkle Boy, Casey is enchanted by all the glittery, sparkly things that belong to his older sister, Jessie. Casey’s mother, father, and abuela are all supportive of this, and allow him to wear a shimmery skirt, nail polish, and a sparkly bracelet over the objections of a frustrated Jessie, who is upset at her brother’s violation of gender norms. In the end, an encounter with some older boys motivates Jessie to reexamine her views and defend her brother’s choices.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Maria Mola, complete with a glittery, eye-catching cover. The story and text are what you expect from Newman: clear, well-written prose, and a sensitive treatment of endearing characters.
The book bears more than a small resemblance to books like Morris Mickelwhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino, Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman and Ian Hoffman, or William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow, in that it features a boy who is bullied for liking things that are ‘too feminine’, but ultimately gains acceptance. Sparkle Boy is still a fresh take. First, it can be viewed as a story about the development of empathy and tolerance, with Jessie as the true protagonist. Secondly, it is a rare LGBTQIA+ children’s book that features Spanish-speaking characters who are happy and accepting, without this being the focus of the plot. Finally, while it would be amazing to see characters like Morris, Jacob, William, and Casey facing challenges other than simply being accepted, that fight is still not over. We still need books like Sparkle Boy.
Stories like these are a brilliant resource for gender-creative children and their parents. For children who do not see themselves in a character like Casey, it is a chance to learn about empathy, and how it is important to accept and celebrate a variety of people and choices.