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February 19, 2019

Reading With Royalty at the Calgary Public Library

The monthly collaboration between Calgary Pride, the Calgary Queer Arts Society and the Calgary Public Library encourages child literacy and conversations about diversity and inclusion.

Drag queen Felicia Boneé reads to a rapt audience at Reading with Royalty on Nov. 17. Photograph by Jared Sych.

Drag queen Slamda BD’s young audience usually asks her the same three questions after she finishes reading them a storybook at the library: how long does it takes her to get ready (two to three hours), where does she get her outfits (a friend who’s a seamstress) and why does she have so much sparkle (because she “loves a good sparkle”).

It’s welcome discussion at Reading with Royalty, where drag queens, kings and non-binary “monarchs” read out loud, play rhyming games and answer questions. The monthly collaboration between Calgary Pride, the Calgary Queer Arts Society and the Calgary Public Library encourages child literacy and conversations about diversity and inclusion. “I grew up in a small rural community and I always had a feeling that I was a bit different,” says Slamda BD (a.k.a. Jordan Trechka). “I just kept it quiet because I didn’t know other people like me … [This program] starts the conversation for families to have that open dialogue.”

Readers often choose storybooks that emphasize open-mindedness, such as Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman, which gently defies gender norms and Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, a queer love story and fairy tale. After the reading and Q&A, the audience gets to play dress-up from trunks of costumes.

James Demers, a drag king and the executive director of the Calgary Queer Arts Society, is the program’s trainer, as well as one of its readers. Reading with Royalty normalizes non-typical gender expression, Demers says. “It’s age-appropriate, we use great books, [and] we use local authors whenever we can.”

Demers says that the audience is often varied and it’s common to see adults, queer teens and immigrant families in the mix. The program also allow parents with gender- and sexually diverse kids to network and makes queer culture more accessible for young people. “Drag performers are kind of like superheroes. They have that presence and costuming and idea of representing something bigger than yourself,” Demers says. “It’s really powerful, because it shows queer kids that we have heroes and fairy tales.”

The program, which marks its one-year anniversary this month, also helps lessen what Demers says is a common part of the queer youth experience — the feeling of being unseen, rejected and alone. “If I was one of these kids that got to see visible community in my city, and realize that people could live full adult lives feeling this way, that would have made such an impact on me,” says Demers. “If these conversations weren’t only accessible to adults, then we could save a lot of pain and suffering. And change the world.”

For more information visit calgarylibrary.ca

Drag king Mo.B presents the storybook Sugar and Snails by Sarah Tsiang. Seated behind is Oliver Twirl. Photograph by Jared Sych.

This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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