Platteville joins national read of “I Am Jazz”

Public libraries participated in the reading of a highly challenged children’s book.


Abbey Pignatari photo

The Platteville Public Library hosted its premier national read of the popular children’s book “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. 

According to the inside cover, “From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel herself in boy’s clothing…Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents and teachers.”

The audience was a mixture of community members – parents and children – and University of Wisconsin-Platteville faculty and students. The members were engaged in the readings and found ways to connect this event back to their daily lives. 

“I teach literacy methods, and I know the book ‘I Am Jazz’, so I was excited to hear it was being shared in the Platteville community. I am here [at the event] as a mom, an avid library patron and a teacher to support this event in our community,” associate professor of education Lindsay Hollingsworth said.

The reading at the Platteville Public Library was organized and hosted by Jaime Collins, co-founder of the Southwest Wisconsin Rainbow Alliance. The Southwest Wisconsin Rainbow Alliance, according to their Facebook page, has a mission of “[advancing] equality, awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ people in southwest Wisconsin by providing support and advocacy.” Collins spoke of the importance of events like the “I Am Jazz” reading within the Platteville community.

“We created the Southwest Wisconsin Rainbow Alliance within the last year, and a big part of that has been the support group we have operated on Wednesday evenings [at the library]. So far, though it is changing now, we were getting younger kids who would come to the group. We want the community to know there are others out there, and even something as simple as this lets people know that, within the community, there are people out there who support you and celebrate diversity,” Collins said.

The national read of this book was sparked by an incident in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. The Mount Horeb Primary Center (a local public elementary school) was going to do a reading of “I Am Jazz” to raise awareness and understanding for a fellow student. Within a few days of a letter going home informing parents of the reading, the public school received a threatening letter from the hate group Liberty Council from Florida and immediately cancelled the reading. 

In response to this incident, the Mount Horeb Public Library decided to hold the reading. This event brought a crowd of over 600 people to listen to the reading of “I Am Jazz” and it also brought media attention, helping spark the national read.

The Platteville Public Library had a reading of the picture book by Katie Grady, a social worker with Southwest Behavioral Services at Southwest Health. The reading was followed by a performance from the local strings band The Plucky Strummers, who played “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie.” The song’s chorus sang, “Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers and me.” 

Collins played a brief animated film called “Snowpeople” by The Okee Dokee Brothers. This film was shown to support and educate about gender fluidity, and then arts and crafts followed that allowed the audience members to create pride flags to represent the things they are proud of about themselves. 

Some of the audience members were able to take this event and picture how they would use it in their future classrooms to help educate the youth about marginalized groups.

“As a future educator, I think one of the best ways to continue to raise awareness in the classroom is, as shown [at this event], by using books and videos. It is very good to help the students visualize and see different things and know that it is okay to be different. It is hard to teach this with just your words; they need the pictures and visuals to help them learn. Books like ‘I Am Jazz’ are good materials to help teach these topics,” senior elementary education major Rene Steele said.

The book ended with the message to embrace who you are and be proud of what you do. Herthel and Jennings wrote, “I don’t mind being different. Different is special! I think what matters most is what a person is like inside. And inside, I am happy. I am having fun. I am proud! I am Jazz!”

Moving forward, Collins believes it is important for the community to be informed about what is impacting the LGBTQ community and the number one thing would be to become a genuine ally. This can be anyone, Collins said, but it takes more than just saying “I support LGBTQ people.” Community members need to educate themselves and stand up for the community.