LGBTQ-inclusive story books are wonderful—but sometimes one wants something a little more interactive. Let’s therefore look today at two queer-inclusive books that aren’t just stories, but offer young readers discussion questions, games, coloring, and more fun activities.
The Big Book of LGBTQ+ Activities: Teaching Children about Gender Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Different Families, by Amie Taylor and illustrated by Liza Stevens (Jessica Kingsley Press), is built around five fairy tale stories involving LGBTQ characters, with discussion questions, games, and coloring pages associated with each one, aimed at teaching what it means to be LGBTQ+, terms for talking about LGBTQ+ people, and how to be welcoming and supportive to others. A “Guide for Adults” section at the end is intended both as a resource for primary school teachers in the U.K. who are teaching relationship and sex education—but also for parents or other caregivers supporting a child through this workbook at home. While some of the references in the book (the 2010 Equality Act; salt and vinegar crisps) are clear pointers to the book’s U.K. origins, most of it could be fruitfully used by readers in the U.S. and elsewhere, too.
The first story shows us how two female princesses fell in love and got married, and serves to launch a discussion of what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight. Overall, the presentation here is fine, although several times it specifically defines “same-sex marriage” as a term for referring to the princesses’ relationship. Really, they just have a “marriage.” Yes, the term “same-sex marriage” is in common use—but as the GLAAD Media Reference Guide advises, “same-sex marriage … can suggest marriage for same-sex couples is somehow different than other marriages.” Let’s just teach kids that a marriage is a marriage.
Additionally, the “Quick Quiz” in this section asks readers to fill in the terms for a woman attracted to women, a man attracted to men, and a man attracted to women—but not for anyone attracted to both. Instead, space is taken up asking readers to identify the term for “The promises you make to each other at a wedding,” which seems a much less key concept to reinforce here. And a matching card game that asks readers to pair relevant terms with images of various couples shows one couple each on the cards for “Gay,” “Lesbian,” and “Straight or heterosexual,” but two couples (a man and a woman; the same man and a man) on the card for “Bisexual.” That’s not wrong, exactly, but could lead to the misconceptions that either: a) Bisexual people have multiple relationships at once; or b) All bisexuals are male. Still, a little adult guidance can help on this point.
The second story is about two already-married princes and a unicorn who believes that only a prince and a princess should marry—until the princes help him with a problem and the unicorn admits he was wrong. The discussion questions and activities here focus on homophobia—for example, they ask young readers to imagine what they might have said to the unicorn to help him change his mind, and how they might help a classmate if someone was “being mean to them about their two mums or two dads.”
The third story involves a child named Arthur who is a transgender boy. When he tells everyone that he is a boy, “everyone was fine with that.” Arthur encounters a problem, however, when he wants to wear a flamingo costume for the Halloween parade. “The flamingo costumes are for the girls. You are a boy,” his mother tells him. Arthur manages to finagle a flamingo costume and secretly take part in the parade. When the king misgenders him—“Well done, little girl”—Arthur corrects him and the king apologizes. Arthur’s example, however, leads a girl in the parade to assert that she wants to dress up as a pirate, something only boys did. His mother (who happens to be in charge of the palace parades) then declares that anyone can dress any way they like.
Given everyone’s unconditional acceptance of Arthur’s gender identity, however, his mom’s refusal to let him wear a flamingo costume rings false. Much as I like the point about breaking down gender roles, too, adults may have to reinforce (as Taylor tries to) that Arthur’s desire for the flamingo costume wasn’t because he is “really” a girl. Taylor also offers a page and a half of explanation “All About Gender,” which may help both children and adults better understand the topic.
The fourth story brings us back to Princesses Asma and Ruby, who have become parents. One of the palace guards, Kai, is a nonbinary person who uses “they” pronouns. When the guard rescues the princesses’ daughter, the princesses realized they can’t be honored with a knighthood (for men) or a damehood (for women), so they invent a “Kaihood” just for them. Activities for this section revolve around pronouns.
The fifth story tells of two children whose mom and dad are divorced, and whose father starts dating another man. The mother explains that this means he’s bisexual. This is perhaps the only depiction of an explicitly bisexual parent (or even character) in a book for elementary-age children, and it’s great to see. The activities for this story revolve around different types of family, but also explore what “biphobia” is and reinforce some of the terms from the first story.
The activities in the book are a nicely varied lot, including coloring and drawing pages, paired exercises to do with other children, and creative challenges, like making menus for a wedding of two princesses. While some are clearly pedagogical, others are just for fun. Despite a few items that might have been better thought out, teachers and other adults looking for resources to help them teach about LGBTQ people and identities will likely find this a useful starting point.
The Dragtivity Book, by Mor Erlich, was created through a collaboration between Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) and Erlich’s Sez Me, a multidisciplinary educational program that began as a queer-positive Web video series for kids. The book uses the ovoid character of Hello Mellow from the series to take kids on an exploration of what drag is and to imagine their own drag personas. Erlich told me via e-mail:
Usually the DQSH drag storytellers read the first few pages of the book and use it as a conversation starter to get kids and adults talking about what drag means to them. Pre-Covid, we used to bring print outs of a few of the pages for the kids to color and do the activities after the reading. Now, for virtual events on Zoom, we often do the “Find Your Drag Name” exercise. The kids write their new drag names in the chat or unmute and shout them out! ‘Mister Popchip Eleventh’, Miz Hummus D Star’, Dr. Pepsi T. Bootlegger!
There are coloring pages, connect-the-dots, matching games, finding games, and more. One page asks kids to indicate the pronouns they use; another steps them through creating their own drag names. Erlich says that some of his favorite parts of using the book with kids at DQSH events have been seeing “lots of great ‘Dragtivity art’ which we share on social media” as well as “lots of silly drag names.”