Children: choose your fighter.
In the red corner: evangelist actor, “loving husband,” and new children’s book author Kirk Cameron, who had a crowd of “hundreds” at his Christian-themed children’s book reading in Hendersonville, Tennessee, over the weekend, after conceiving of the “wholesome” event as counter-programming to Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH).
Attire: Cameron, fun family man committed to being firmly anti-rainbow, and standing in as the anti-DQSH, wore all black.
Weapon of choice: “American values”; bomb threats (in the case of a Pride-themed DQSH in Sydney this week, I wish I was joking); heavy-handed metaphors (children as seeds waiting to sprout).
In the blue corner: the global spread of feather-boa and rainbow-sparkle phenomenon Drag Queen Story Hour, in which drag queens donate their time to local libraries and read fun books to children while dressed like glittery princesses.
Attire: pastel eyelashes, chiffon and satin, all the colors.
Weapon of choice: singing.
The fight: My children haven’t attended a reading by Kirk Cameron of As You Grow in the company of Duck Dynasty cast members so I can’t really weigh in on how much fun that is, but they did spend every Wednesday of their early lives visiting the local DQSH with their daycare group. They loved it, and I have not yet witnessed any anti-American values usher forth from their still-developing mouths. They seem to be turning into nice people with solid imaginations. So the battle is between basically a 6-foot-tall Elsa reading Julian Is a Mermaid and some guy in a black hoody and black jeans, standing in what looks like a megachurch with a book about seeds in the ground. Which would your children rather attend?
But also, stop the fight for a minute—why are we doing this? How is it that the children’s front list became the Gettysburg of the culture war? Must we add to the firepower with more lackluster picture books? There is already so much unimaginative children’s lit out there being catapulted at kids (sorry, The Bench), it’s truly a bummer to see that ideologues are now devoting their energies to putting out worse and more moralistic fiction for children to fall asleep to. Surely, the celebrity children’s book bubble has to pop when people discover that their kids think most of these books blow. Consider, too, that children may in fact be smarter than your average Kirk Cameron metaphor: “We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not,” said Maurice Sendak, who would have hated all this.
I attended a reading some years back by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. It took place after bedtime at The Strand, but children showed up in hordes, standing on their parents’ laps holding copies of Triangle and Square over their heads like it was a Metallica concert. They were there not for Barnett or for Klassen, but rather for cheeky Triangle, for pissed-off Square, and for the murderous carousel of characters Klassen has created.
As Barnett told me at the time, the kids who show up are “excited about the book, they don’t really care about who you are […] I mean if you’re good at reading the story, they’ll be like, ‘… this guy is alright!'”
Which begs the question: is Kirk Cameron alright?