Well-known queer and trans author, S. Bear Bergman is out to change the way family stories are told in children’s books. According to reports, together with a team of talented authors and illustrators, Bergman has started a new book series called the Flamingo Book Club. The series will feature six books, delivered over a year, that feature stories about LGBTQ families, kids and characters. There will be a strong emphasis on including characters of color. And these won’t be stories of struggle, oppression and bullying. These powerful stories will focus on “joyous, celebratory representations,” Bergman said.
There are literally thousands of books featuring families that approximate yours. If you’re queer or a person of color, the options available to you in the children’s book aisle severely shrink, especially if you’re looking for a story that includes a representation of you or your family. If you’re both queer and a person of color, there literally may only be one or two books that even get close to telling the story of your family.
Bergman’s husband, j wallace (who spells his name is all lowercase) works for the Toronto school district and is “somewhat” of an expert on children’s books, especially those featuring LGBTQ characters. As wallace and Bergman were reading a book to their 4-year-old son, Stanley, the kid said, “I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want anymore bully stories.” And they both thought about the types of stories they were sending their child to bed with and wanted to change the vibe of LGBTQ stories. It’s currently looking to receive funding through Kickstarter, and the crew has already raised $23,000+ of their ambitious $49,000 goal.
“Showing people who are different colors is a step,” j wallace says. “But it doesn’t allow people reading this book to say, ‘There’s someone who looks like me, or a group of people I can see in the world.’” It’s often considered a safe way to try and depict a world that isn’t exclusively White. Another tactic often used in children’s books is depicting animals. “We can sidestep racism altogether if we can just have animals,” says wallace. “I recognize it sounds ridiculous, and I wish the people who put these books together realize it sounds ridiculous [also]. Many of those books with ducks, dogs, penguins and hamsters are okay, but how many books feature animals, and how many are there that feature South Asian people? Why do we have a market for all these books about animals but not giant groups of people?”
Many publishers feel as though books that don’t feature White male protagonists are seen as risks. “There is a conventional wisdom in publishing that parents of white children won’t buy books that feature children or families of color, but children or families of color will buy books like feature white children,” says Bergman. The same goes for girls reading stories featuring boys, but not the other way around.
“The books aren’t centering on the lives of people of color and they are never written by people of color,” he explains. “They are written by White adults about their family narrative.” He goes on to describe one of these books, “King and King and Family,” that tells the story of two married White gay men. “They travel to an unnamed jungle kingdom,” recounts wallace. “[It’s the story of] these two White guys on their honeymoon, but they come back from their trip with a very heavy suitcase [and] oh my! It’s a little girl from the jungle! They fill out paperwork to adopt her.” The child, who wallace says is of color, is “never portrayed as coming from anywhere and never portrayed as having any family other than King and King.” “My Princess Boy” is one notable exception to these limited narratives, featuring a young Black child experimenting with gender identity.
From Their Kickstarter:
The first year of books we have planned is so exciting! Some of these titles are just working titles, and concepts are subject to change, but we’re keen to tell you about what we have in store. They include:
– M is for Mustache, a Pride ABC book written by playwright, activist, and badass mama Catherine Hernandez. M is for Mustache features not only items of Pride – like beads, flags, glitter and stick-on mustaches – but also values of pride: liberation, justice, community and magic.
– Newspaper Pirates, a mystery adventure about curious Barney who goes on an apartment building adventure to see who’s filching his Daddy and Papa’s newspaper. Red-headed Barney, an only child, follows up on clues and hunches until he gets to the bottom of things,
– a Onkwehon:we (Indigenous) story of a gender-independent young child finding the power in his long hair by Mohawk and Cayuga artist and shaman Kiley May. In this book, a young boy who values his long hair and femme ways finds the strength to peacefully affirm his own expression of gender,
– Home Together, a travel story, in which Mama and Amma – recently married – take their newly-blended family on an alternative honeymoon trip to New Hampshire and Dharamsala, India so everyone can see where each grew up,
– Is That For A Boy Or A Girl?, by S. Bear Bergman (that’s me!) an inclusive and feminist book showing twelve awesome kids speaking in first person rhyme about how they and their activities/interests/clothes interrupt the pink/blue dichotomy in some way,
– and more! Surprises and delights await you!
What a power move! I am totally loving the diversity that will be represented in children’s books! What do you beauties think?
Check Out This Gallery Of Books Every Black Teen Should Wear!