I teach classes on children’s literature at a university in California. I always say that, although I’ve been teaching now for 30 years, what I really want to be when I grow up is a children’s author. It’s a genre that we teachers love and spend a great deal of time specializing in because we want to thrill our students with a passion for reading so that they too will become lifelong readers. Students love this class for that very reason. That is, until I get to the topic of contemporary children’s books that have non-normative gender roles as a subject.
Whether it’s classics like Oliver Button is a Sissy (published in 1979), William’s Doll (1985) or more recent books with gay themes like King and King (2004) or And Tango Makes Three (2005), you can feel people beginning to get uncomfortable. It’s no wonder that books like these are among the most banned books in the last decade.
But why does a boy wanting a doll instead of a ball, or a boy that prefers to dance instead of play sports, make us uncomfortable? I myself married a prince of a guy just like in King and King and we recently adopted a baby girl just like two little chinstrap penguins living in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. What is it about love that makes us so uncomfortable?
Are we afraid of these books because our communities of faith preach against them? Or is it that we don’t feel equipped to mediate the conflicts we think they’ll cause in our classrooms? Do we hate these books because they reveal our own hidden homophobia? I’d be curious to hear what you think about this.