Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 27, 2020

Book Giveaway: Were I Not A Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry by Lisa Robinson

Lisa Robinson has a new non-fiction picture book, Were I Not A Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry and illustrated by Lauren Simkin Berke. Lisa has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner.

All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know other things you do to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Lisa and Lauren.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


Were I Not A Girl, The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry, is a picture book biography about a transgender military surgeon who lived in the 19th century. Dr. Barry graduated medical school at the age of 19 and subsequently joined the British military. During his travels around the world, he was a tireless advocate for healthcare for women, prisoners, lepers, and the poor. He also performed one of the first documented cesarean sections in which the mother and baby both survived. He was a colorful character who loved men’s fashion and traveled with a small menagerie. Dr. Barry was determined to follow his dreams and live his truth.

This unique picture book biography tells the story of Dr. James Barry, born female, who lived as a man from age 18 to his death.

Like other girls of her time, Margaret Bulkley didn’t go to school. She wouldn’t grow up to own property, be a soldier, a doctor, or hold any job other than perhaps maid or governor–such was a girl’s lot in 19th century England. And was she comfortable born in a girl’s body? We will never know. What we do know is that at the age of 18, she tugged off her stockings and dress, cut her red-gold curls, and vanished. In her place appeared a young man. Margaret became James Barry. James would attend medical school, become a doctor and a soldier, travel the world. He would fall in love, deliver babies, and fight in a duel. And he would live a rich full life.

Here is a picture book that is both a fascinating and sensitively drawn portrait of someone who would not be undervalued, and an important introduction to the concept of gender identity.

REVIEW: K-Gr 4–This accessible picture book biography spotlights a lesser-known part of LGBTQ+ history. Dr. James Barry, a white transgender man, accomplished great feats. He was Inspector General of Hospitals for the British Army, performed the first documented Cesarean section in which both the mother and baby survived, and advocated for better health-care conditions for disadvantaged patients. Robinson, who is also a therapist, presents the facts in a conversational tone. Readers are addressed directly; the text alerts them to the gaps in what is known about Barry’s life. The process of Barry’s transitioning is written in a straightforward manner, switching from “she” to “he” pronouns. The majority of the narrative focuses on his remarkable achievements as a surgeon. Simkin Berke’s pencil and watercolor illustrations feel appropriately historic, with expertly sketched British architecture and ornately framed portraits of Barry. The artwork uses a style reminiscent of Barbara McClintock’s picture book biographies. Barry is portrayed as red-haired and fashionable. Back matter expands on the details of Barry’s personal and professional life and includes notes about transitioning and people who identify as transgender (though this word is not used within the narrative).

VERDICT Recommended for biography collections, especially those looking to include more books that cover LGBTQ+ history.

Reviewed by Clara Hendricks, Cambridge P.L., MA , Oct 01, 2020


I first read about Dr. Barry in a newspaper article that was reviewing a biography of his life. As a woman physician, his story intrigued me; I initially thought Barry’s life was a little known piece of history about women being barred from the medical profession. It was with that angle in mind that I decided to dive into the project. However, the more I researched, the clearer it became that Barry, who lived for over fifty years as a man, was transgender. Although this aspect of his life was significant, there were many other aspects of his story that seemed worth telling.

When I first sent James Barry’s story to my editor, it was a straightforward cradle-to-grave biography. My editor asked me to do a complete overhaul in which I made mention of the challenges of telling his tale given the lack of many details about his life (including his actual birth date) as well as the complexities of how we view gender now as opposed to back then. Thankfully, my editor liked what I came up with.

Once I had revised the story, I sought out several transgender readers (who are also writers) to review it to ensure that the text was as thoughtful as possible. Those readers’ disagreements about the text further highlighted the complexity of the task of sensitively portraying Barry’s life. I hope that the straightforward nature of this story helps children understand the importance of each and every person living their own truth. The backmatter adds additional information about Dr. Barry’s accomplishments as well as a brief discussion of the concept of gender as a spectrum with a wide range of possibilities.


Lisa Robinson is a child psychiatrist, voracious reader, and children’s book author (PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN, PIPPA’S NIGHT PARADE, MADAME SAQUI, REVOLUTIONARY ROPEDANCER). She lives near Boston with her family and three Spice Cats: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Paprika. She has an M.D. from Tufts University and an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. When she’s not practicing psychotherapy or reading, she’s flying on aerial silks at her local circus studio. You can find her at her website or on Twitter @elisaitw


LAUREN SIMKIN BERKE is a Brooklyn based artist, illustrator, educator, and, when time allows, publisher of art books and zines under the name Captain Sears Press. Lauren draws for clients such as The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, and has illustrated book covers including Katie Rain Hill’s Rethinking Normal, the Paris Review’s The Writer’s Chapbook, and the first edition of Susan Stryker’s Transgender History. Lauren teaches in the MFA in Illustration program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Were I Not A Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry is their first picture book.

Lisa, thank you for sharing your new book and journey with us. Dr. James Barry’s story is very interesting and it fills a spot and need in the LGBTQ community. Good luck with the book!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. What a great subject and book! I hope it appears in elementary school libraries everywhere. Congratulations, Lisa and Lauren!


  2. Reblogged this on Terry Pierce and commented:
    There aren’t many picture books on transgender subjects. Here’s a good one featured on Writing & Illustrating today.


  3. Lisa, this is definitely a book I wish I had written…what a precious gem of a story! Thank you for shining a light on Dr. Barry…and thank you, Kathy, for shining a light on Lisa and her newest book! I’m definitely sharing on Twitter and on Facebook!


  4. What a fascinating story! Congratulations, Lisa! I look forward to reading your pb.


  5. What a fascinating story, and backstory. I’ve added it to my hold list at my local library & will share this post on twitter.


  6. Congrats, Lisa and Lauren! Looking forward to reading this important book. (I’m signed up for the emails and I RTed the giveaway.


  7. I love reading stories like this – thank you, Kathy, for sharing this book. And Congratulations to Lisa for the courage of revising from the ground up!


  8. Great review of a fascinating person. Looking forward to reading this story!


  9. Thanks for writing this story. I can’t wait to read it and share it!


  10. I cannot wait to read this book! Congrats to both Lisa and Lauren!


  11. I can’t wait to read your book, Lisa and Lauren! It looks so thoughtful and interesting. Congrats to you on the publication of this inclusive bio!
    Spreading the word on Twitter!


  12. This looks like a very interesting read. Congratulations, Lisa and Lauren!


  13. Thanks, all! I hope you enjoy it and its portrait of a brave and inspiring character!


  14. As a former teacher, I was always looking for books like this. Now I can pass this one on to my teacher friends. Congrats to all!


  15. Sounds like a fascinating story and one that offers an important message. Love the cover.


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