A Costume for Charly – CK Malone and Alejandra Barajas

A Costume for Charly by C.K. Malone, Alejandra Barajas
Published by Beaming Books on September 6, 2022
Genres: Children's, LGBTQ+
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Halloween has always been tricky for Charly, but this year they are determined to find a costume that represents their feminine and masculine identities equally. Digging through their costume box, Charly finds many fun costumes that could be for either girls or boys, but they all miss the mark. With trick-or-treat looming, they must think outside the box to find the perfect costume--a costume that will allow them to present as one hundred percent Charly.
As the world recognizes and welcomes diverse and intersecting identities, children are the most in need of freedom to explore and learn how to build a better, more inclusive society. This delightful, affirming picture book delivers a message that is accessible, educational, positive, and inclusive.

A Costume for Charly is the story of a young non-binary person figuring out what to wear for Halloween. Specifically, Charly is bigender and thinks of themselves as being equally male and female. As they search through costume options for trick-or-treat, some options feel too masculine while others feel to feminine. Charly must think deeply and use some creativity to create a costume they feel represents them in all their complex fullness.

The story is, of course, a metaphor for the larger conversation about gender identity. A Costume for Charly is specifically about Halloween and trick-or-treat, but also applies to all aspects of Charly’s gender expression. They feel both masculine and feminine—how do they express both elements of their identity? The problem of the book isn’t uncertainty about their gender identity or about others’ reactions to their gender identity, it’s about them as an individual discovering for themselves how to best express outwardly how they feel inwardly. It’s a simple message that carries a very weighty meaning for children determining how to best express their individuality and identity—whether in the realm of gender identity or anything else.

For Charly, their Little Red Riding Hood costume feels too femme; their vampire costume feels too masc. The solution is to tear both apart and create something new, a beautiful metaphor for resisting gender stereotypes that results in a Little Red Riding Vampire complete with elements of both traditionally masculine and feminine expressions.

A Costume for Charly breaks new ground in focusing on non-binary gender identities, expression of gender that are often left out of the mainstream LGBT discussion. Charly’s bi-gender identity is even more niche and less discussed, as within the nonbinary spectrum it’s not feeling like neither masculine or feminine, but both. Author C.K. Malone is also bi-gender and their own personal experience comes through in this book. They begin the book with a note stating that “people deserve to be treated with respect according to how they identify or express themselves and their pronouns” and link to their website where they talk about bigender identity in more depth. The book ends with a paragraph explanation of the term nonbinary and bigender.

I also appreciate that the book makes no mention of sexuality or sexual identity. Too often, particularly in unnuanced conservative circles, gender and sexuality are treated as the same thing. Even in the term “LGBT,” the bulk of the acronym refers to sexual expression and not gender expression. Focusing solely on gender identity highlights that sexual and gender identities are separate things. There can be no misunderstanding here: this is simply a story about a child who feels both masculine and feminine figuring out for themselves how to best express that. I’m sure this book will receive pushback in the typical circles for those purposefully sensationalizing or misunderstanding it, but I also think it’s prepared to gently respond to that pushback. A Costume for Charly gently suggests the boxes that society has made aren’t absolute and stepping out of the box in order to fully be yourself is a beautiful thing.