Tomorrow is International Children’s Book Day. A couple of years ago I wrote an article celebrating Tove Jansson, one of the winners of the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award. When the next award is announced next year I’ll look at some of the other lgbt writers and illustrators who have either won that award or have been nominated for it.
Many children’s books have
been written in recent years using lgbt issues as the main subject. Quite often
these books have been banned from public libraries and denounced by some
misguided, self-appointed guardians of children’s morals as being corrupting
influences. These books are a subject deserving of an article on its own.
article is about general children’s fiction (novels, picture books, verse)
which have no lgbt content but have been written by lgbt authors. Tove Jansson,
and indeed Hans Christian Andersen, is a perfect
example of what I mean. Other writers I’ve mentioned in this blog have been J.M. Barrie and Edward Lear.
Two other lgbt writers I’ve mentioned before, Lionel Charlton and Dan Billany,
wrote adventure books for boys.
Some of the greatest
characters in children’s literature have come from the pens of lgbt writers. Of
those created by the writers above there are the Moomins, the Little Mermaid,
the Ugly Duckling, Peter Pan and the Owl and the Pussycat. I haven’t heard of
any serious denunciation of any of them being a corrupting influence on
children. On the contrary, most of them have been used to illustrate the issues
that life brings to us all.
There is another addition to
the pantheon of famous characters from children’s literature that have come
from the pens of lgbt writers – Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, all that most
people know about Mary Poppins, created by P. L. Travers, is what was created
by Disney. P. L. Travers was never really happy with the musical comedy version
that Walt Disney came up with. Had she lived to see the Disney studio’s recent
film “Saving Mr. Banks”, a fictionalised version of the events surrounding the
creation of the Mary Poppins film, Travers would probably be equally unhappy.
But we’re not talking about the film today, but books.
What we can see is that
lgbt writers have been writing for children since the genre’s evolution from
folk tales and nursery stories. Hans Christian Andersen was a pioneer in this
cross-over. The Victorian era has been seen as the Golden Age of children’s
literature (though I’d argue that we’re in one now). Andersen’s classics were
aimed at a younger audience, but most of Victorian literature was aimed at
The Victorian era was very
moralistic and optimistic. Classics such as “Oliver Twist” brought the plight
of the poor working classes to the front of fictional writing. Philanthropists
and politicians championed the rights of the poor and a rosy view of a society
where people believed that everyone was capable of going from “rags to riches”.
One American writer who
built a career on writing “rags to riches” stories for children was Horatio
Alger jr. (1832-1899). Alger’s novels were incredibly popular in the late 1860s
and early 1870s. He wrote many books telling essentially the same story, so you
can imagine that after a while they became stale and “samey”. They did,
however, contribute to the 19th century concept of the American
The Victorian era produced
female lgbt writers as well. One of the most well-known in the USA was
Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929). Although better known as the writer of the
words to the patriotic song “America the Beautiful”. Katherine wrote books of
verse and edited several volumes on folk and fairy tales. One character she
made popular was Mrs. Santa Claus. I’ll return to Katherine Lee Bates in my
Advent series in December.
At the beginning of the 20th
century there were very few lgbt writers of children’s literature. There was,
however, an explosion of new illustration. Not all writers of literature are
artist. For example, the bisexual author Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952) wrote
many picture books which were illustrated by other artist. Other writers
emerged during the mid-20th century who illustrated their own work,
such as Tove Jansson and Maurice Sendak.
In recent years the value
of children’s literature has been highlighted, most recently in its success of
the Harry Potter books and their contribution to literacy. Many children have
started reading literature as a result. Each generation has provided
influential children’s authors, both lgbt and straight, and their books have
provided enjoyment to millions. How can anyone say any that books by lgbt authors
corrupt children any more than those written by straight authors? Even though
I’m in my 50s I still get great enjoyment out of reading children’s classic
literature. I urge every adult to not abandon children’s books just because you
are no longer a child. So pick up a kid’s book tomorrow.