At His Request: The Story of the Story Behind Sam!

Guest Blogger: Dani Gabriel, author of Sam!

My son Samson came out as transgender at age 9. Shortly thereafter he told me that he wanted to read a book about a boy like him. We looked and looked, but what we found was for older kids or about transgender girls. So I decided to write Sam a book.

Author Dani Gabriel

Author Dani Gabriel

It’s called Sam! and it’s being published by Penny Candy Books in September 2019. Despite the name, and despite being based on my son’s story, it’s not a biography. The truth in the book is here: Sam is resilient, Sam is loved, and Sam’s whole family learns new ideas and ways to support him when he comes out as transgender. Just as in the book, Sam’s sister Maggie was the one who advocated for him at school and at home, even though she finds him relentlessly annoying. For me, as a gender nonconforming person myself, the chance to write about gender in an affirming and creative way was liberating. As a parent, the chance to offer other families of transgender kids a representation of themselves that is positive while acknowledging the challenges is something I am incredibly grateful for.

The front cover of  Sam!

The front cover of Sam!

After I had written the book, I had to let go of it, and let the illustrator bring it to life. Sam! is illustrated by the amazing Robert Liu-Trujillo. The drawings are vivid, and Sam almost jumps right off the page. The art speaks to Rob’s vision centered in communities of color, a vision which is lacking in many kids books about gender, and which needs to be promoted more widely in all genres. One of the most profound things that the artist did was to represent Sam as the same in appearance throughout the book. In the beginning, when everyone thinks Sam is a girl, he has the same hair and the same style of clothes as he does after he is acknowledged as a boy. What an amazing way, I think, to show that gender is a perception, and often a false one.

As more and more books about the LGBTQ+ community are being written and published, it’s critical that more space is made for people to speak from their own experiences. Sam! is a product of my experience as a queer, gender nonconforming person as well as a parent of a transgender child. I wrote about what I needed, what Sam taught me he needed, and what I dream for the future of all our kids. The illustrations come right out of Rob’s community-based aesthetic. The neighborhood and classroom Sam exists in are full of joy. We need more stories that come from the people who are represented in them, that are rooted deeply in what we know instead of what people think about us.

A spread from  Sam!

A spread from Sam!

Sam loves his book. He shrieked when he saw the illustrations for the first time. He can’t wait to tell people about his story, the way it’s different from and similar to the book. He wants to affirm to the world that his sister is, in fact, annoying, but also his hero. I imagine another transgender gradeschooler opening the book and seeing himself for the first time, and I know that it will make a difference in how he sees himself as he grows. I know his family will be excited to be able to pull out a book at bedtime that reflects them and reminds them of how strong and amazing they are. I hope that many other kids, families, and teachers will also learn about children who transition and how to support them. There are so many possibilities for how to be a family, for how to support each other, and for how to live our truths. Here’s one that has never been seen before.

—Dani Gabriel