MN Reads: "As I Am" by Celeste Finn
As I Am by Celeste Finn, with illustrations by Kristina Neudakhina, follows a child named Kai through a day in the life of a non-binary young person. Kai is met with problematic situations such as the teacher asking students to form two lines; boys in one, girls in the other. “Most of the prevailing messages that children receive around gender are pretty polarizing,” says Finn who has worked as an early-childhood educator for a decade. “There's almost no representation about children in literature who are beyond gender binary.”
But for all of Kai's troublesome moments, there are at least as many moments of love; Kai spending time with their favorite hobbies, hanging out with their best friend Paul, and being welcomed home by their cat. There are those in Kai’s life who accept them for exactly who they are. “I wanted to provide a story for a child if they were non-binary that they could feel seen and understood,” says Finn who also expresses that all children regardless of gender identity can learn from the values illustrated by the story. “When it comes to gender and empathy and acceptance and friendship, these are pretty complex topics and there’s a lot of nuance. I wanted to make it as simple and as approachable to children who are three, four and five as possible.”
Included in the book is a Gender Guide designed for educators and caregivers. “I had no idea the extent of the work that would go into a caregivers guide,” says Finn. “I had to assemble a team to review it… I really needed to dig deep and do a lot of research.”
Steps toward getting the book into bookstores in the Northland are in the works. In the meantime, As I Am can be purchased at Red Balloon in St. Paul or online at Finn’s website, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
Minnesota Reads is produced at The North 103.3 with funding provided in part by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.