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What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns

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Follow Ari through their neighborhood as they try to find their words in this sweet, accessible introduction to gender-inclusive pronouns that is perfect for readers of all ages.

Whenever Ari's Uncle Lior comes to visit, they ask Ari one question: "What are your words?" Some days Ari uses she/her. Other days Ari uses he/him. But on the day of the neighborhood's big summer bash, Ari doesn't know what words to use. On the way to the party, Ari and Lior meet lots of neighbors and learn the words each of them use to describe themselves, including pronouns like she/her, he/him, they/them, ey/em, and ze/zir. As Ari tries on different pronouns, they discover that it's okay to not know your words right away--sometimes you have to wait for your words to find you.

Filled with bright, graphic illustrations, this simple and poignant story about finding yourself is the perfect introduction to gender-inclusive pronouns for readers of all ages.

40 pages, Hardcover

First published May 25, 2021

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About the author

Katherine Locke

14 books506 followers
Katherine Locke lives and writes in a small town outside Philadelphia, where she’s ruled by her feline overlords and her addiction to chai lattes. She writes about that which she cannot do: ballet, magic, and time travel. She secretly believes all stories are fairytales in disguise. Her YA debut, THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, arrives September 2017 from Albert Whitman & Comapny.

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5 stars
261 (43%)
4 stars
211 (35%)
3 stars
98 (16%)
2 stars
18 (3%)
1 star
9 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 155 reviews
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews313 followers
June 9, 2021
This picture book is a great introduction and/or representation of people using all kinds of different pronouns and even sometimes changing pronouns from day to day and not knowing which pronouns fit on a particular day. Many different pronoun options are presented and normalized and this book also normalizes introducing yourself with pronouns and asking about others' pronouns. There's a hugely diverse cast of characters as neighbors gather for a barbeque and one detail I noticed was a person using he/him pronouns and also wearing makeup. This is an excellent buy for library collections!
Profile Image for Maura.
631 reviews9 followers
August 1, 2021
In the absence of other picture books explicitly about pronouns, What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns begins to fill a void, but reading it with an 8 year old boy left more questions and holes than it filled.

First, on the cover are examples of pronouns: the familiar He/Him, She/Her, and They/Them, but also Ey/Em (new to me), Xe/Xir, and Ze/Zir. Nowhere in the book are any of those alternate pronouns explained. (There is no back matter at all.)

My son was familiar with the concept that a person might be nonbinary and use "they/them" pronouns, but was a bit confused and referred to Uncle Lior as "he" sometimes because Uncle Lior uses the honorific "Uncle", which is gendered male. That puzzled me as well.

From a grammatical standpoint, I also found it confusing and frustrating that it's supposed to be a book about pronouns, but when characters would share "their words", an example was, "Teacher, friendly, and loyal!".....a NOUN and TWO ADJECTIVES, or "MECHANIC, NEIGHBOR, RESPONSIBLE", two nouns and an adjective.

I confess that my reading of this book likely reflects my comparative ignorance about gender fluidity (an ignorance I am working to ameliorate), but the concept that a person's pronouns would change as often as adjectives for themselves, using the examples from the book like happy, thoughtful, silly, calm, and sleepy, was startling to me. The text says,

"Uncle Lior knows how important my words are to me because I am always growing and changing, and some my words change with me. So every time they visit, they ask, "What are your words, Ari?"

My immediate reaction was concern that this book seems to fit into the negative stereotypes of genderqueer children and teens held by adults who are fervent "defenders" of the concept of absolute gender binary....who claim that transgender children are just expressing a mood or a whim that can and will easily change. I didn't expect a book from an ally to actually confirm this negative stereotype that a person's gender expression can change as quickly and often as mood.

It seems to me that this book is less about pronouns and the fact that people's pronouns might change, but more about the concept of gender fluidity. As someone who considers herself an ally of genderqueer children, I know I have do do a lot more reading about this, but I wish that the book had some simple back matter for children and their grownups that would explain in simple terms the differences, especially between gender fluid, genderqueer, and transgender people, and in particular why some pronouns would be used over others, and how some people never change their pronouns, some people might change their pronouns only once, and some people change pronouns often.

On a positive note, the use of color and the joyful, diverse characters made the book feel celebratory and fun; illustrations by Anne Passchier are lovely.

Clearly, I need to understand more, and I need to learn more, and I need to better understand how to explain these concepts to a child. As a picture book for a child, however, especially a child who has no adult to provide any context, What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns feels unfinished and confusing.
Profile Image for Ash Otterloo.
Author 3 books70 followers
May 27, 2021
This book is wonderful for introducing the concept of different pronouns, that it's fine if you're not sure of yours/that they change sometimes, and that it's normal to ask and respect the pronouns of the people around you!

I especially loved the inclusion of other words as well, like "loyal" "mechanic" "artistic" and "generous" to show that we all have many traits and layers of ourselves, and pronouns are just another way to communicate a part of ourselves with others.

The artwork is soft and friendly, inviting young readers to take a safe, playful view of trying on many words to see which fits in your own time, while feeling the support of your community. Here's to many, many neighborhoods being as lovely as Ari's!
Profile Image for Sandra.
67 reviews
September 12, 2021
I applaud the author for attempting to introduce a younger audience to these terms and foster acceptance, but it was so confusing to read that I didn't even share it with my children. Furthermore, the idea that we should encourage children to change pronouns as frequently as they change underwear makes me concerned.
Profile Image for A.J..
Author 9 books228 followers
July 6, 2021
Knowing this book exists makes me so happy. And I absolutely love the way the concept of personal pronouns is presented with main character Ari's uncle Lior who uses they/them pronouns. "What are your words?" is a question that allows us to tell people who we are. Because as a queer person, I'm so much more than just my gender. My pronouns (which are he/they, for the record) are important, but they're just a small part of me. I'm also a figure skater, an author, a cat-lover. Those don't change. But on any given day I might be sleepy, determined, hopeful, and so many other things.

So the way pronouns are presented as a small part of a larger whole was really clever here, in my opinion. I do think kids will need parents to help contextualize this concept and the shifting nature of Ari's pronouns specifically, but I think that's part of the beauty of picture books: they offer an opportunity to discuss the topic further with a child so that they have an even better understanding of the topic during the next time you read the book. Locke has achieved that here and more with this simple, beautiful story.
Profile Image for C.J. Heid.
191 reviews6 followers
March 20, 2023
I saw this book while shelving books at the library, and I was honestly kind of amazed that there was a kid's book for this. I took a second to read it and it's a beautiful book.
The art is spectacular and casually features a diverse group of neighbors for the young kid and their family. The book explains how pronouns are used and how/why people may change the pronouns they use. Readers meet a variety of friends who use a variety of pronouns, and follows Ari who is still deciding which words to use for themself. The way Ari describes trying out pronouns and feeling like they don't fit is a very accurate description even for adults, and still understandable for little ones.
I think it's a great book to read with kids, especially as they get a little older. The book may cause more questions, but that makes it a great way to start up a conversation naturally about how they feel about themselves.
I plan to have this book on my future kid's shelves someday.

(and p.s. I know it's a picture book, but I read it, so it's going towards my Goodreads Challenge.)
Profile Image for Spencer.
161 reviews2 followers
October 4, 2021
A pretty solid book, but it would have benefitted greatly with some backmatter. Explaining neo-pronouns, how to pronounce some of them, why people use multiple pronouns, so on. These are all things that are relevant to the book, but not explained at all.

I feel like this was written with the assumption that you already have some pronoun/identity/etc. knowledge. But if you don't, unfortunately this book may be more confusing than helpful.
Profile Image for queerpoetssociety_.
196 reviews28 followers
September 1, 2022

They and them feel warm and snug to me.
These pronouns are perfect.

Me to my English teacher in third grade: Yes. Yes, they are.
Profile Image for Marisa.
107 reviews3 followers
August 7, 2021
"What Are Your Words" by Katherine Locke was a wonderful book that started a healthy conversation with my toddler. Yes she's a toddler, 3 years old to be exact, but I think you can learn about being gender inclusive at any age!

The story is about Ari who's excited about their Uncle Lior visiting. Uncle Lior is Ari's favorite Uncle always asks "What are your words" whenever they see each other. However, on the day of the summer party, Ari isn't so sure about their words. As Ari and Uncle Lior go through town meeting Ari's neighbors they try different pronouns out until they find what fits! The story is sweet and heartwarming with pictures that are simple in shape, but vibrant in color. It is a great way to learn about all of the different pronouns that are out there and the importance of looking beyond appearances.

I loved this book and I loved how by the end of it my daughter was asking me: "what are your words mom?" I kid you not she asked me that and we talked about how we each saw ourselves. It blew my mind and goes to show how important it is to introduce these ideas to our kids. I hope that as my daughter grows and learns about herself that she'll know that she can not know what her pronouns are and change them as she changes too! So happy this book exists!
Profile Image for Aolund.
1,296 reviews8 followers
June 30, 2021
An upbeat and accessible book about pronouns (and the other words we use to describe ourselves)! The biggest drawback to this book is that, as the title suggests, characters ask the question "What are your words" of one another, rather than "What are your pronouns?" Within the context of the book, this makes sense and fits the story, but if kids go to try and apply the lessons of this book by asking a friend or stranger "What are your words?", they'll probably be met with a blank look. When using this book with kids/students, I'd probably just swap out the question "What are your pronouns" for "What are your words," or, where appropriate, "What are your pronouns? And what other words would you use to describe yourself today?" Another drawback is that all the bodies depicted in this book are thin or slightly chubby--there are not fat people depicted.

Otherwise, this book is fun and friendly, introducing a range of pronoun options and full of cheerful pictures of people with a range of skin tones, one person who is using a wheelchair, one person with a prosthetic foot, and one person who has hearing aids.

Themes: Be Yourself, Change, Gender
Age range: Preschool-Early Elementary
Profile Image for Alissa Tsaparikos.
365 reviews2 followers
May 27, 2021
The message of this one is important, and it has a good cohesive story to help bring the reader that message. However, I think that it would have benefited from some backmatter that further discusses some of those pronouns, especially for those not as familiar with the concept. I think that children that grapple with finding the right words for themselves will really relate to this story and feel seen. Overall it is an important addition to collections, and I hope to see more in the future that come with more elaboration and conversation starters.
Profile Image for JJ W..
942 reviews57 followers
March 4, 2022
Rounding up from 3.5 stars because I'm just so pleased this exists.
It's a kids' book, so it's not like this is deep and involved, but I love the route Locke takes that pronouns are a descriptor like anything else. You can be strong and she, or enthusiastic and they, and they're all just ways to explain a person. I'm a little sad that Ari ends on "they" (spoiler alert) for how they're feeling that day because I'm noticing that "they" is getting solidified as the acceptable nonbinary pronoun option and I want to disrupt that, but I'm glad that there is the recognition that such things can shift at all. Especially for nonbinary folks, "he" and "ze" and "she" can all feel right in the same week and it is part of loving that person to go with the fact that we're trying to figure it out, too, and language is slippery.
Hurrah that there are so many forms of representation that *don't* get pointed out here because they're just normal--disabled folks and folks of color and the adult who goes by they/them to show Ari the way.
Illustration-wise, the vibrancy will definitely catch kids' eyes, but I have to admit that the noses are very weird. It was distracting, how much they just look like caterpillars. But then I'm an adult and am terrible at reading kids' books without my Adult Brain.
Profile Image for Liander (The Towering Pile) Lavoie.
306 reviews67 followers
February 11, 2022
I read this to my grade 3/4 classes and one grade 2/3 class. The 2/3 class didn't really seem to get it but that might have been because they were a bit too full of energy at the time to really focus on storytime. All my grade 3/4 classes had questions during and after the story, and I felt like it sparked a good conversation. The story ends by asking the reader "what are your words?" so I took that opportunity to answer the question myself, which I think helped the kids get it.

Upsides: This book fills a definite need! This is our library's first book on the subject. It's a great conversation starter. It's got cute art, and diverse representation in a lot of ways (obviously gender/pronouns, but also race, ability, and gender presentation). While I used it mainly for grade 3/4, it could definitely be used with younger kids; it just might require a little more education since it's more likely to be their first exposure to the concept.

Kinda downsides: If you ask a person "what are your words?" in real life they won't know what you're talking about lol. So while the framing of the story where pronouns are combined with other traits about a person is nice, it's also good to know that that isn't the language people really use. Which leads into the issue that there's no backmatter in this book, so ideally it would be read to kids by an adult who knows what they're talking about and can answer questions that come up. Questions like "what does zir mean?" and "is Ari a boy or a girl?".

Anywho, this book served its purpose well of helping me introduce the concept of pronouns, and specifically they/them pronouns, to my grade 3/4 students. I recommend it for school libraries for sure!
Profile Image for Joan.
1,997 reviews
April 8, 2022
I suppose I’m behind and backwards in this but I don’t get it. If I’m talking to someone, I’m going to use their name or title, so I simply don’t see the point. Is it truly going to make a difference what pronouns are used? If someone is now Anna (from this book,) I’ll call her Anna. Not her “dead name” (not used in the book, heard elsewhere). I suppose this matters to some, so I’d do what is correct to them but what is wrong with assuming the sex they look like till corrected? The book is nicely put together, although I’ll point out the main character would have had a lot more fun if they hadn’t spent all day worrying about their pronouns.
Profile Image for Debra Hines.
441 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2021
A good picture book to help kids understand pronouns and how they don't necessarily correspond to gender, while at the same time, revealing that sometimes people's pronouns change as they learn more about themselves. If a child has no background knowledge, though, I think the book could be confusing as it doesnt really explain WHY people choose different pronouns then the one that corresponds to their sex.
310 reviews3 followers
November 11, 2021
This is such a wonderful book. While it is aimed at young children, I think it could also be used by kids who are having a hard time helping the adults around them understand that they are on a journey to find the pronouns they want to use.

There is so much lovely representation beyond LGBTQ. The characters have a variety of skin tons, body shapes, physical abilities, etc.
Profile Image for Jenn.
980 reviews18 followers
August 23, 2021
Why 4? The concept that poor Ari must routinely re-decide their pronouns is what kept this from a 5 for me. I did love the inclusion of terms beyond pronouns, but incorporated words that described who the individual was beyond pronouns.
Profile Image for dobbs the dog.
576 reviews11 followers
June 14, 2022
This book is FANTASTIC!

I love the diversity of the book and I love the language in it. It's not just about pronouns, it's about how you describe yourself. So, I could say that my words are she/her, librarian, friendly!

I HIGHLY recommend this lovely picture book.
Profile Image for Christie Angleton.
232 reviews70 followers
January 16, 2023
Suuuuuuper didactic but in what I consider to be a helpful way (though I think Teresa Thorn’s book does it better). There is a lot of text that I think could go in an effort to make the teaching parts more accessible - but I like this as a kind of jumping off point for important conversations about pronouns and gender identity and expression.

There's a lot going on here, in both the written and illustrated texts. For me, this will be part of a much larger text set about gender identity/expression and pronouns, as more of a resource than any kind of story.
Profile Image for K.
3 reviews
October 10, 2021
This is great for both adults and children. Loved it!
Profile Image for Sarah.
794 reviews10 followers
November 8, 2021
I LOVE this book and it makes me feel really happy inside to read it.
4 reviews
December 19, 2021
I loved this book so much because it teaches kids about different pronouns!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 155 reviews

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