Book Review: Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She and They

It’s not often that you see a picture book on the banned book list but Ian and Sarah Hoffman, authors of the Jacob books, are keeping fine company with In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman.

Sited for promoting the gay agenda, their first book, Jacob’s New Dress, has landed on a banned book list in a North Carolina school district. Since then, the husband wife duo has written two more books starring Jacob, their latest in May of 2021.

Jacob’s New Dress
Written by Ian and Sarah Hoffman
Illustrations by Chris Case
Published March 1st 2014 by Albert Whitman Company

In this first book of the Jacob series, Jacob wants to wear the princess dress at school while playing dress up. Christopher, his classmate, doesn’t understand why Jacob would want to wear a dress. Jacob goes home and tells his mom about wanting to wear a dress and kids not being accepting about it. Mom lets him wear a sue-do dress to school the next day, but even though the teacher is kind and understanding, Jacob is disappointed and confused by his classmates. Finally, Mom and Jacob make a dress for him to wear to school, and although some of his classmates are still not very kind, Jacob owns it, and that’s enough for him.

I appreciated how the teacher addressed the situation with kindness, openness and lots of tact. Mom and Dad struggled a bit to let Jacob wear a dress to school, but always supported him. In the end, we are put in Jacob’s shoes and feel his frustration, his worry and ultimately his joy.

Jacob’s Room to Choose
Written by Ian and Sarah Hoffman
Illustrations by Chris Case
Published May 7th 2019 by Magination Press

In Jacob’s Room to Choose, Ian and Sarah Hoffman tackle the bathroom debate concerning gender non-conforming students at school. Jacob doesn’t feel quite comfortable using the boys bathroom, and his friend Sophie who wears button downs and khakis doesn’t feel comfortable using the girls. Both get harassed in the bathroom and end up not going.

The teacher has the whole class really look at what is considered the typical boy and typical girl, and teaches them that we are all on a spectrum of gender, and people should be able to use the bathroom of their choice (which is where the title comes in) and not be harassed while doing so.

Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They
Written by Ian and Sarah Hoffman
Published May 4th 2021 by Magination Press

There is to be a play at school, and Jacob is very excited! From the last two books we know that Jacob likes to wear dresses. But in this story, even Jacob questions gender. His friend Ari uses the ‘they’ pronoun, and Jacob is confused. The explanation of using different pronouns, especially they/them is done very clearly and tastefully. He ultimately comes to an understanding that I think is earned, and shows us that we all have something to learn.

Side note: as a theatre person, the actual play that they performed was sweet and charming. The authors and illustrator did a great job at showing us the performance.

I think these books are sincere, and look at gender through the eyes of children. The content can be controversial, considering that they’ve been on the banned book list. Just looking quickly through reviews on Amazon you can see that people disagree passionately about these topics. Whether or not you agree with the content, these books are written well and the illustrations help tell the story. Maybe one day there will be so many books with so much diversity that these will just be one of many.

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