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Andy Passchier Illustrates Children's Book 'What Are Your Words?'

One of the spreads for "What Are Your Words?" [Andy Passchier]
One of the spreads for "What Are Your Words?" features people with various pronouns [Andy Passchier]

There weren’t children’s books about gender identity on the shelf when Cleveland illustrator Andy Passchier was growing up.

“I didn't even know what it meant to be trans or non-binary. I only knew a little bit about like, different sexualities, but nothing about gender,” said Passchier, who uses the pronouns they/them and also goes by Anne professionally.

Passchier now helps families start conversations about gender identity as a children's book illustrator, including with the latest title” What Are Your Words?”

The book, written by Katherine Locke, tells the story of young Ari, who is uncertain which words to use when making introductions on the day of the big neighborhood party.

“They go through the whole neighborhood and different people are introducing themselves to them,” Passchier said. “Towards the end, you see whether Ari finds their words or not. Spoiler, they do.”

The design stands apart from some children’s books, toys, and clothes that reinforce stereotypical ideas about gender. Passchier said the publishers they work with are actively challenging these ideas. Those include Penguin Random House and Little, Brown and Company, which tapped Passchier and Locke to create “What Are Your Words?”

“It meant a lot, especially since Katherine’s non-binary, too," Passchier said. “For the publisher to take that into account and say, ‘You know, I think we need two trans or non-binary people to work together on this and share their voices and help bring this story to life,’ I think is really cool."

One of the spreads in "What Are Your Words?" [Katherine Locke and Andy Passchier]

Passchier was born in the Netherlands and graduated from Ringling College of Art & Design in Florida. In addition to illustrating children's books, Passchier's design work has included wrapping paper and puzzles. 

"My style and how I draw, it seems to really naturally be geared to kids and a younger audience," they said. "It's very simple, very graphic, very bright."

Passchier will celebrate the launch of "What Are Your Words?" with an in-person and virtual event at Visible Voice Books in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood on Sunday.  

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.