LGBTQ Pride, for us queer folks – even if we are ten, twenty, thirty years into it (and some of us are!), even if we dread the heat or the crowds or the obnoxious drunks or the steady creep of commercialism and the leakage of political focus – is still a holy day, the one day in which we flip from minority to majority, even if circumscribed by a few city blocks over the course of a few hours. Its inception was in adult struggles, and for much of its forty some-odd years it has served as a relief valve for we struggling adults, as a result making it more akin to Mardi Gras than a Fourth of July parade in tone.
And yet. We queer folk with kids have played a huge part in chipping at and melting the icebergs of homophobia and heterosexism in the past ten years of this movement. And so we who remember when Pride was more a fierce march than a festive parade (indeed were fiercely marching, needing that relief valve) now return to it with familiarity, pushing strollers, looking to not just share the celebration with our kids, but help the event celebrate them.
I’ll wager most of us near or in anyplace that has such a celebration take our kids to Pride. If it’s a parade that includes a contingent our kids can march in (and which ones don’t by now, I’d like to know?), most of us march in them, knowing for a fact that this one day a year, our kids will feel like astronauts returning from the moon, Super Bowl-winning heroes, waving to block after block of cheering crowd. Yet we have sought out help explaining and preparing our younger kids for this event, and have done so without the help of the familiar, intuitive kind of teaching tool so central to early childhood learning: the picture book. That is, until now.
This Day in June is the pride parade picture book queer parents have been waiting for since, oh, 1970. We’ve needed something that captured the joy and exuberance of the event, and something that helped kids picture the glorious range of gender expression and queer fabulousness that is so righteously on display at Pride (and by contrast so absent in most of our kids’ everyday lives). We’ve wanted a sweet, playful opportunity to talk in advance about what they’ll see, what it’ll be like. We’ve wanted to help them get as excited as we do, in anticipation, and have a way to share it with their friends.
Author Gayle E. Pitman and illustrator Kristyna Litten have given us just that. Pitman – a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Sacramento City College – offers up rhyming couplets are simple and rhythmic, the kinds of things you can bring yourself to read over and over again without clawing your eyes out (the bar any good picture book must clear, and too few do). Litten’s delightful illustrations capture the range of human exuberance, from shirtless leather folk to marching band members to grandstanding politicos in convertibles to Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in nun’s habits, beads, and genderf*ck makeup. (Check her website for more of a taste of her work.)
When I test drove the book with my kids – a sweet, throwback moment of sorts, since by now, with my youngest at seven, they prefer to read to themselves – I experienced a perfect iteration of the value of the book. We turned the page, and I read “Clad in leather/ Perfect weather,” and my son, after scanning the page for the kids that appear on each one said, “Why is she wearing just a bra?”
Which, hello! Is precisely the sort of question he and scads of kids like ours have asked at Prides past and will continue to, every dadgum year! And I had the chance to say at home, on the quiet of the living room couch, months in advance, “Oh, well, it’s either a pretty bra or it’s a bikini top. It looks like a hot day, and she seems happy and proud. Also? ICE CREAM CONE.” (My version of, “Squirrel!” Though it happens that the bra-wearing leather gal is indeed licking an ice cream cone, perhaps as multilayered gift from Ms. Litten to us.)
The frank truth of it is, grown-ups in undies is a staple of Pride and one of the most entertaining/ challenging visuals to explain. A book like this provides priceless road-testing for the bon mots I’ll be tossing out on the day of. And, on a more serious note, a book like this, with its keen visual fidelity to the event, offers queer and ally parents an opportunity to explore all sorts of discussions of the diversity of LGBTQ people, the political movement that sparked this tradition, and why a day like this still matters.
Anyone seeking background research for any of those conversations – whether parent or teacher, queer historian or open-minded novice – will find ample material in comprehensive endnotes which follow the picture book portion. A “Reading Guide” provides descriptions or explications for every single image, taking each as a jumping-off point to convey an impressive array of LGBTQ historical and cultural highlights. I dare you to read that section and not learn something new (my daughter certainly ate it up, consuming that section on her own after we’d read it together). “Note to Parents and Caregivers” includes discussion about “How This Book Can Help,” and “Talking to Children,” broken into sections for 3-5 year olds, 6-12 year olds, and 13-18 year olds. At this point, where you’re thinking you’d want this section to be really well done, is where I remind you that the author is a professor of psychology and women’s studies.
Can anything else impress you more? How ‘bout the fact that it’s published by Magination Press, the children’s books imprint of the American Psychological Association. I’m not sure that will keep the book banners at bay (hell’s bells, if people can keep trying to ban the damn penguins, nothing will hold ‘em back). But for my money the APA imprimatur might make it just a tad easier for some of us to make the case for the book’s appearance at our kids’ preschool bookshelves. Should such a case need to be made.
Think of all the preschool directors and elementary school librarians you’ll want to give end-of-the-school year gifts to, and consider this book one of ‘em. After all, to quote the closing couplets of the book: “All invited/ All excited/ This day in June/ We’re all united!”
Gayle E. Pitman, illus. by Kristyn Litten. APA/Magination, $9.99 paper (32p) ISBN 978-1-4338-1659-8
[PHOTO CREDITS: POLLY PAGENHART]