A few good books to curl up with – and learn from
Booksellers tell us their favorite books that make Black History Month a learning experience for kids.
Jodie Patterson’s “The Bold World” (Ballantine Books, 328 pp.) was released on Jan. 29.It is a memoir about identities and the author’s personal experience navigating the world as a black person, as a woman, and as mother of a transgender boy, Penelope.
In the early morning hours of that same day, Jussie Smollett was assaulted, a rope thrown around his neck. The “Empire” actor, who is a gay black man, said his assailants hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him during the attack.
As the news spread, Patterson, an advocate for LGBTQ people and board director of the Human Rights Campaign, posted on her Instagram account: “He’s at a store getting food at night because he’s hungry. He’s Black, LGBT and famous. They attack him with words and with their fists, they throw bleach on him and tie a noose around his neck. They attempt to kill him. He’s Black and he’s gay. That’s it. That’s it.”
Patterson is noteworthy for her activism for her transgender son, Penelope, a topic area with still few voices. Her book spans the decades of her personal and family history and traditions, unfurling the myriad ways people identify: through gender, race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and even location.
The author comes from a long line of activists “Gloria (the author’s grandmother) was arrested more than 25 times … Gloria recognized very deeply that a new world order – for her, and for her children – was one worth fighting for. This was the responsibility left to me.”
Penelope, the child who would inspire her activism for the transgender community, isn’t a consistent part of the book until about halfway through. Yet throughout Patterson’s retelling of her life before and after Penelope’s birth, she expertly connects both the black civil rights movement and intersectional feminism with the struggle for transgender and gender nonconforming rights.
The book isn’t a manual for parenting transgender children – and Patterson doesn’t paint herself as the perfect mother, wife, daughter, black woman or entrepreneur. But as she unpacks her past, her narrative buttressed by her family’s history and traditions, readers see the world as she sees it, sometimes heartbreakingly so.
What the book is: a woman’s journey of constant transformation and fierce love for a world where her children can live their authentic selves.
Some of the inspiring moments from the book:
❚ When her affluent parents would put the author and her sister into different situations, rich and poor: “‘Jodatha,’ (her father would) say to me … ‘there’s no place you don’t belong. Walk like you own the joint. Because you do, baby girl. You do!’ ”
❚ When her mother encouraged her to feel beautiful when she looked in the mirror as a child: “Mama would then make us wrap our arms around ourselves and repeat: ‘I love myself.’”
❚ In her experience at Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, her transformation shifted from her parents building her confidence to owning it herself, with the help of luminaries such as Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and the inspiration of the school’s president, Johnetta B. Cole. “We, black women, were allowed to be all in our feelings, whatever they were – grateful, angry, inquisitive, bold, righteous – and whenever they surfaced. There, we learned how to simply be,” Patterson writes.
❚ After coming into her own as an adult, a hard lesson she learns: “Once you give someone the power to judge just one tiny part of you, you invite that person to define all of you.”
❚ On the societal and familial pressures of motherhood: “While (her thenhusband) Serge could put on and take off one hat at a time – wearing ‘father’ sometimes, then ‘boss’ or ‘lost-in-theclouds-creative,’ at other times – I was learning that kind of versatility wasn’t open to me.”
❚ After Penelope identified himself as transgender: “His dignity was – and is – more important to me than gender.”
❚ When she stepped into her role as fighter and protector of Penelope: “Standing still while someone is transforming can make the bystander uncomfortable, I know … But if they couldn’t recover from that initial moment of surprise, if they stiffened upon hearing me say these ‘strange’ new words in association with Penelope – ‘transgender,’ ‘boy,’ ‘nephew’ – that became their problem, not mine.”
❚ On being an activist: “Change agents, those who aren’t asking permission, are often not welcomed. But they come for the world anyway. They are ready.”
Author Jodie Patterson OMI TANAKA