A House for Everyone: Book Review

A House for Everyone - a look at gender identity and working together by Jo Hirst. See the review on Miss Jenny's Classroom.Gender identity is explored by reading about a group of children who gather to build a house together. Despite their differences they use their own skills to help complete the task. 

Title: A House for Everyone
Author: Jo Hirst
Illustrator: Naomi Bardoff
ISBN: 9781785924484          Language: English

Classification: Fiction
Themes: gender identity, acceptance

What’s it about?
This is the story about a group of children who come together to build a house for them all to share. Along the way the reader gets to know about each child and what gender they identify and what the like/dislike doing in everyday life.

There isn’t an overwhelming amount of text bit it is descriptive in the way it states how each child identifies with a gender and how this is expressed in their lives. The illustrations contain a diverse set of characters and are beautifully rendered.

The format of…What the child is doing…then the story is interrupted to give background information about their identity…this could be a bit jarring and take away from aspects of the book if being read aloud. It has the potential to exclude as much as include.

A House for Everyone - a look at gender identity and working together by Jo Hirst. See the review on Miss Jenny's Classroom.My Thoughts
This is definitely a hot topic at the moment and this is the first book I have read that attempts to address gender identity with children in a child environment (eg. the playground). On the surface this comes across as a good book to use with children on a 1-on-1 basis but I would be wary using it as a whole class book for a couple of reasons which I’ll discuss as I go.

The use of ‘their’ for the non binary child. This was confusing even for me as an adult. I think I read Alex’s pages about 5 times just to get that it was talking about one child. I get that Alex identifies as non-binary (neither male or female) but the term ‘their’ (while widely accepted for this use) is just confusing.If ‘their’ had been eliminated in favour of just using ‘Alex’ as the preferred way to be addressed I feel it would be much easier for children to understand.

I also mentioned above that this book has the potential to exclude as much as include. Why? And this is where, if you think too much, the book can get complicated…where is the girl who loves horses and does have long hair? Where is the boy with short hair who likes trucks – Yes, these are often deemed “stereotypical portrayals” of children – but what I’ve just described is each of my own children – children who have been free to pick and choose what to play with etc. So how do these children relate to the book? The book does mention “other friends come and join us” but there is no context there for connections to be made.

On some level I feel this book is trying too hard to make the point. It’s trying to cover everything in a handful of pages and for me it doesn’t quite work. An individual book about each child might have worked better – although I acknowledge then it would have been difficult for the overarching theme of working together couldn’t be made.

Overall, this is a topic that people have strong feelings about (for and against). The author and illustrator are definitely attempting to bring understanding and acceptance for children who identify in different ways with their gender. I do however feel that because of the subject, and the potential for strong views affected by culture, religion, and family values, that care and consideration should be made prior to using as a class a whole. For 1-on-1 settings and for parents with their child – I think that the message could be much better conveyed with the book in conversation.

Jo Hirst - author of The Gender Fairy and A House for Everyone - website link

Naomi Bardoff - illustrator of A House for Everyone. Website link.

Special thanks to Jessica Kingsley Publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a free advance copy of the book.

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