February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Drag Queen Story Hours Flourishing on Both Coasts

Drag queen Cholula Lemon presides over a story time at the Brooklyn Central Library branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

A special type of storytime is springing up in libraries and book stores in California and New York, thanks to a non-profit group called Drag Queen Story Hour. The organization states on its website that readers in drag can “capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and give kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.”

Storytimes featuring drag queens started in San Francisco in December 2015, first with celebrity drag queens, such as Honey Mahogany, who was featured on the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. The San Francisco-area events are usually held at the Eureka Valley (CA)/Harvey Milk Memorial Library.

“The Drag Queen Story Hour demonstrates the dynamic wit and ingenuity of the queer community and the power of a good story to forge positive personal connections,” says William Johnson, program director for LAMBDA Literary.

The concept moved to the East Coast in August of 2016, when Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore hosted a story hour. That event caught the eye of local public librarians. Both the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) have recently held them. Boston Public Library has one coming up.

“Those of us who work with young children on a regular basis know that children can dress and act in a variety of ways, and supporting their choices builds self-confidence and can help avoid serious problems later in life,” says Judy Zuckerman, director of youth and family services for BPL. “By creating an atmosphere of acceptance, and reading stories about acceptance of differences, we are hoping to stave off teasing and bullying.”

The drag queens read inclusive books, such as Christine Baldacchino’s Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (Groundwood, 2014); Todd Parr’s It’s OK to Be Different (Little Brown, 2009); and J.J. Austrian’s Worm Loves Worm (Balzer & Bray, 2016) .

The illustrator of Worm Loves Worm,  Michael Curato, was delighted that his book was included in the BPL storytime. “It has warmed my heart to see them reading Worm Loves Worm, a book that is all about changing how it’s been done, but keeping what’s important at the heart of the matter,” says Curato. The illustrator, who performed as a drag queen for years, believes that it’s crucial for mainstream kids “to see marginalized people as human beings—to help them build compassion and understanding, instead of fear of the unknown.”

Curato, perhaps best known as the creator of the “Little Elliot” (Holt) series about a polka dot elephant, described drag queens as “just people—except way more fabulous.” They do “a lot for their communities, which is an important fact that the public doesn’t hear about.”

Giving back to the community is exactly what drag performer Ella Ghent will be doing on June 10 at the Hudson (NY) Area Library, a community 127 miles north of New York City. At the program, produced by Out Hudson, local resident Ghent will be playing the ukulele as well as reading. Kids can rummage through a drag treasure chest and nibble cookies from a local baker. The event, of course, will include “fabulousness,” says Ghent.

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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  1. Laura Koenig says:

    The linked storytime for the Boston Public Library was held last June – information about our upcoming Pride Month programs including drag storytimes is available here (http://www.bpl.org/pride/)

  2. Christina Vercelletto Christina Vercelletto says:

    Thanks for catching, Laura! Just updated that link.

  3. Orange County Library System in Orlando, FL just had one last week, too, as part of Pulse Remembrance week. Also with a contestant from Ru Paul’s Dragrace, as well as a local drag queen! (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/pulse-orlando-nightclub-shooting/os-drag-queen-story-hour-pulse-orlando-20170523-story.html)

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