Good sto­ry­tellers — and role mod­els

Li­brary brings drag queens, kids to­gether for story hour

The Daily Observer - - LIFE - DEEPTI HAJELA

NEW YORK — It takes a cer­tain some­thing to be a good sto­ry­teller: en­thu­si­asm, tim­ing and a flair for the dra­matic. Per­form­ers at a chil­dren’s story hour at a New York City li­brary have all that and then some — they’re drag queens.

About once a month since last fall, the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Li­brary has been pre­sent­ing Drag Queen Story Hour, where per­form­ers with names such as Lil Miss Hot Mess and Ona Louise re­gale an au­di­ence of young chil­dren and their par­ents. There’s even a drag-queen ver­sion of Wheels on the Bus in which Lil Miss Hot Mess sings of hips that go “swish, swish, swish” and heels that go “higher, higher, higher.”

“Drag queens and chil­dren don’t usu­ally get to­gether, which I think is a shame and one of the ben­e­fits of a pro­gram like this,” Lil Miss Hot Mess said while putting on an out­fit that in­cluded a sil­ver se­quin dress with rain­bows, blue and sil­ver glit­ter eye­shadow and an enor­mous wig of curly blond hair. (The per­former’s le­gal name not be­ing used be­cause of fears of ha­rass­ment.

“It’s great that it teaches them self-ac­cep­tance in a very gen­eral way,” she said of the pro­gram, which got its start in San Fran­cisco.

At the most re­cent story hour, chil­dren rang­ing from in­fants to preschool­ers heard about Pene­lope the hippo, the main char­ac­ter in You’re

Wear­ing THAT to School?! by Lynn Plourde, which ex­plores ideas of fit­ting in ver­sus stand­ing out. The chil­dren got up and danced and ended the ses­sion wear­ing pa­per crowns.

Kesa Huey and Sarah Baratti were among the par­ents who brought their chil­dren to the event, and they were glad they did.

“I think we’re just look­ing for ex­po­sure to pos­i­tive role mod­els in as many forms as pos­si­ble,” Huey said.

Baratti said she had taken her daugh­ter to a pre­vi­ous drag queen story hour, and when she asked the girl if she wanted to go again, it “didn’t take a lot of con­vinc­ing.”

Some­thing like this pro­gram “could be a re­ally pos­i­tive model for kids,” es­pe­cially since kids in the preschool age range are open to the idea of dress­ing up and fan­tasy, said Chris­tia Spears Brown, a pro­fes­sor of de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Kentucky.

It “ul­ti­mately pro­vides chil­dren with a re­ally flex­i­ble model of gen­der,” Spears Brown said.

“And that men­tal flex­i­bil­ity about gen­der will ben­e­fit all kids, re­gard­less of how gen­der-typ­i­cal they them­selves are,” she said.

The re­sponse has been largely pos­i­tive, said Kat Sav­age, a chil­dren’s li­brar­ian with the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Li­brary. She said the read­ers se­lect the books they want to read, though the li­brary does main­tain lists of sug­gested books for a range of top­ics.

And for those who don’t ap­prove?

“We just tell peo­ple: ‘If it’s not for you, you don’t have to come,’ ” she said.

Drag queens and chil­dren don’t usu­ally get to­gether, which I think is a shame and one of the ben­e­fits of a pro­gram like this.” Lil Miss Hot Mess


Lil Miss Hot Mess poses for a photo with a child af­ter read­ing to a group of chil­dren dur­ing the Fem­i­nist Press’ pre­sen­ta­tion of Drag Queen Story Hour! at the Park Slope Branch of the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Li­brary, in New York.

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