From left, North Yarmouth Academy middle schoolers Tess Hogan, Annie Millar, Phoebe Reilly and Hadley Smith, four of the five authors of “Alex,” a picture book that aims to teach young people about transgender identity. Not pictured is student author Ivy Birney. Contributed / North Yarmouth Academy

Members of the North Yarmouth Academy’s Civil Rights Team have written and illustrated a book about a transgender girl in an effort to educate both their peers and younger students more fully about the transgender experience.

The cover of a picture book students on the Civil Rights Team at NYA wrote and illustrated. Contributed / North Yarmouth Academy

“Alex” is about an adolescent who finds acceptance and support after she comes out to her friend. Annie Millar, one of five middle school students taking the elective civil rights course, said the team chose to pursue the book project not only to teach other students about transgender identities, but because they wanted to learn more about them as well.

“We felt like younger kids don’t know much about (transgender identity) and there’s not many resources or books about young, transgender people,” Millar said.

Millar’s classmate, Ivy Birney, said the main message of the book is that “transgender people are still regular people” and everyone should be treated with respect, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

Birney said the third and fourth graders to whom they read the book seemed to understand the message and had a positive reaction overall.

“The students felt that children’s stories about sexual orientation and family type have become more common, but that the literature on gender identity is still quite limited,” said middle school history teacher Maya Burns, who leads the Civil Rights Team. “They wanted to keep the ‘Alex’ concept simple, aimed at 8- to 9-year-olds, so they used their prior knowledge to create a story and message that they thought would have been beneficial for themselves at that age.”


NYA’s library collection includes books and resources on diversity, equity and inclusion, LGBTQ+ and identity, according to NYA Director of Marketing and Communications Kristi Belesca. Two copies of “Alex” are available, one in middle school entryway and one in Burns’ classroom.

NYA also has campus organizations that support gender identity and diversity, equity and inclusion, such as the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. Classes such as Middle School Life Skills and Ninth Grade Seminar include topics about healthy sexuality.

About 20% of teens in Maine identify as LGBTQ+ and, of those, 41% considered suicide in 2019, according to OUT Maine, a nonprofit that works to support LGBTQ+ youth and their families across the state.

“That’s (the 41%) is about 2,800 kids that can fill 58 school buses. That’s a lot of kids that just need support and really may not know how to express themselves or identify themselves because of a lack of information,” OUT Maine’s Mental Health Coordinator Aiden Campbell said.

“When I came out as transgender, I didn’t even know it was a thing,” Campbell said. “I had just told my mom that I felt like I always should have been a boy and had no idea what the response would be or how to go about doing that because there was no information or education.”

Campbell applauded the students for their work.


“I think it’s great that there’s young students that are aware of these things and know about them, whether they’re advocating for themselves or their classmates to bring light to a topic that isn’t talked about enough is just amazing” he said.

OUT Maine’s Read the Rainbow program aims to bring sets of LGBTQ+ inclusive books to public and school libraries.

Executive Director Jeanne Dooley said the NYA students’ book is “a great project.”

“The more people do to educate and encourage kindness, compassion and acceptance, the better,” Dooley said.

Burns said she feels “really hopeful for the younger generation based on the work and the inclusiveness of these students, and I’m really proud of their hard work in creating this awesome book and educating so many other students.”

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