Season 2 Episode 5 Transcript: “Incidental LGBTQ+ Representation in Picturebooks: A short history and a modern overview.”

Picture Bookstagang Podcast

Transcription of Season 2 episode 5

“Incidental LGBTQ+ Representation in Picturebooks: A short history and a modern overview.” 

O;005 C: Oh, right. Hello and welcome back to the picture bookstagang podcast. My name is Corrie, my pronouns are she and they, and my two illustrious co-hosts are named.

0:21 A: I’m Ale, and my pronouns are she or they whichever.

0:25:K : I’m Kelly and my prenouns and my pronouns are she, or your pronouns, 

C: or you’re getting a prenup for your pronouns?

K: Yes.

C: Okay. Well, congratulations, I hope it works for you.

K: In truth, I don’t actually care that much but all good. Anyway pronouns are fine. As long as you’re not being a jerk to me, honey. 

C:No, you’re fine I also feel like I don’t really care but I’m definitely not a man is no strong feelings, 

K: Those are strong and very valid feelings. Real valid.

C: Anyway, Welcome to picture bookstagang  podcast and gender crises. Yeah, it’s not even a crisis actually I’m very secure. Today, tangentially related to the pronouns, our episode is going to be about incidental LGBTQIA plus two s. That should have come before the plus representation in picture books in a few board books.

K: We love all the letters of the rainbow.

A: All of them. 

1:44 C: I am a proud member of the alphabet mafia

K: Alphabet mafia for life baby. We’re all here. So we want to talk about incidental representation. But in order to do that I think we need to tell everyone what incidental representation is and I think Ale is the voice.

2:06: Oh man, I feel like I just got tapped on by the teacher.

K:That’s me. 

A: Sit up taking the blanket off.  So incidental representation is a book that includes

people of various interest sexual identities. However, the point and the major plot of the book is not about that identity. It’s about other stuff, and the people included just happened to be LGBT q Black,

K: disabled, disabled, any number of different like racialized or marginalized identities.

A: Yes. 

K:So, and you know marginalized identities can can be religion, ethnicity, race, sexuality, gender, disability, so on and so forth. The list goes on. There’s there’s no one way to be human.

But there’s definitely a lacking of representation, especially in picture books that doesn’t fall into tokenism and tokenism. I’m going to, you know, for a very strong picturebook example, I’m going to say, that’s what we’ve got children holding their hands around the world and you’ve got a child from every country. Wearing a different outfit and you’ve got one person with a rainbow and one person in a wheelchair. They’ve included. You know those things to try to check a box but there isn’t any thoughtfulness to how that person is represented.

3:43 A: I think, also, one of the things about incidental representation that is special and why we kind of excited about talking about it is that it doesn’t focus on exploring and identity through trauma. A lot of the time when we do have a marginalized identity explored in picturebooks It’s about a traumatic experience. It’s about bullying or enslavement or just something really traumatic. And those are all necessary things to talk about unnecessary things to learn about.

But for young readers who are learning about the world around them they’re learning about themselves, learning about other people. They need to be able to see stories where they and other people are reflected that aren’t about trauma that aren’t just about


4:42 K: Yeah, so we think about, you know, between the three of us we’re thinking about books that have wonderful joyful storylines that have excellent storytelling, but they’re not telling a story about an identity. So, you know, there was a couple of excellent books that came out last year specifically both of them are from Chronicle one actually one came out in 2021, which is MR WATSON’S CHICKENS and then BATHE THE CAT just came out the beginning now 2022.

And both of them are absurd stories that are a riot to read aloud, but neither of them are stories about Mr. Watson and Mr Nelson the couple that have 456 chickens, or BATHE THE CAT, which is about a to dad family. But the story is about a mystery vs cat and a bunch of mix ups. So you’ve got this really good representation of these families that are living their lives and running into hilarious situations but we’re not sitting there and exploring why Mr.

Watson loves Mr Nelson, why they’re together or why, or it’s okay to be that way like we’re not getting into any of that stuff 

6:06 A: It’s just totally normalized. 

6:08 K: Yes, 

6:09 A: It doesn’t even need to explain that they’re together because just because they are of course they are. And here’s their naughty cat. Also that book is phenomenal. I don’t know how anyone is going to follow that act, it’s like two months into 2022 is like we’re done guys!

C: Pack it up! 

K: It’s here! Done in the publishing industry for the rest of the year we got the best result.

C: I know! BATHE THE CAT is so good, and like honestly, they’re both from Chronicle, I couldn’t pick a favorite one between them. If I had to because they’re both delightful.

6:49 K: They’re, they’re both delightful they’re both to the current favorites in our house, you know the the song, the chicken sings in MR WATSON’S CHICKENS  We like wander around the house, saying, saying the tune. But I will say, the BATHE THE CAT is by far the funniest book, we have read in a long time. And the first time it was read a lot of my partner was reading it to our five year old and I’ve never heard laughing coming out of the other room, like that in my

I had to like run into the room and I started filming because it was just like the most giggles I’ve ever heard in my life so 

A: Yeah, I, I agree. It was the funniest book I’ve received in, I don’t know how long it’s so good my kids and I were laughing so hard, it’s just, 

K: it’s like I genuinely don’t know if that book was intended to be written with a two dad family.

A: I’m not sure because I, you could you could change the illustrations to anywhere and the father and it would still work. 

K: Yeah, I think that really like embodies what we’re talking about with incidental representation, like the the representation comes in, in the illustrations and the visualizations and in good characterization, but it doesn’t really come through, necessarily, in the text of the story, except for maybe saying their names are pronouns. So, but that that’s where it ends. This is not a story about the fact that this family has two dads in BATHE THE CAT. 

A: Yeah, and I think one of the wonderful things about books that do incidental representation and joyful stories, is that they don’t feel othering Yeah, they’re, they’re very like inviting, and

I just imagine that as a child reading that from a two dad family, it would be very welcoming and like affirming?

8:58 K: Wildly affirming as a human, who had to dads. So, it’s like, oh wow, you can just be a happy family that everybody isn’t trying to challenge.

C: Iit feels like you’re. It feels like the reader s just dropping into an already established story you know because there’s no exposition, it’s just from the first page this is the story.

K:  It’s just a family that’s got to clean up before grandma comes because you have to clean up before grandma comes to that all 

A: I’m so tired.

K So, you know, it’s, um, but it’s it’s it’s the most mundane scenario but then they’ve got a really silly cat who changes around the chore list over and over and over and leading to increasingly ridiculous scenarios and it’s just, it’s, it’s a brilliant book and, you know, for so many queer families. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. Since the dawn of time.

9:58 C: Another one that I think falls in this category as well, is the story, HARRIET GETS CARRIES AWAY , which I know is an ultra favorite in Kelly’s household. But this is the same sort of thing where it’s just, just so happens that Harriet who gets carried away has two dads and are they in the deli or something when all of this happens,

K: They are in a grocery store and Harriet’s dad’s go to get like some food for her birthday party. And she just wanders off wearing her penguin costume in a grocery store in New York City and then suddenly she’s in the freezer and there’s penguins there for reasons untold is like she just follows them because she’s a penguin like them. And then she realizes she’s in the Arctic and it’s like well what do I do now and and it’s, again it just, it’s a really funny story, it builds she winds up back at the grocery store and her dads don’t even know that she was gone. Her dad’s aren’t  a central part of the story actually, they, they’re just there and they’re just a fact. Harriet has two dads, you don’t have to think about it very much. But you know that they’re there. And I think in the case of that book in particular. And, I mean the entire body of work of that author Illustrator. There’s queer coding in all of their books. So, but this is probably the only one with human characters that it’s not coded.


A:  I never picked up on that you’re straight.

C: That’s cuz you’re straight. 

A: Not the first time I’ve been told this …I just don’t pick up on these things.

C: You’re perfect.

11:54 K: NOT QUITE NARWHAL  is kind of incidental representation, but it’s actually so incidental that I didn’t pick up on it in that book for a long time.

C: Another. Another one too. I know we were talking about this briefly but I just thought of it now is the book that came out from Simon and Schuster, called AN ORDINARY DAY

And it’s a very beautiful picture book, it’s about two houses that are next door to each other. And then in one house somebody is having a home birth, and then in the other house, a dog is passing away.  And so one of the families is has two moms.

12:30 K: Yeah, that I’ve read that book. It’s a lovely book and it’s kind of a circle of life and grief and joy and new beginnings like it’s a very multifaceted very beautiful book it. We’ve told it in a very, like, sort of sharp way it’s a very gentle book, that’s a look. Yeah. But you’re right that is completely incidental to the story. There’s no discussion there’s just two moms and that’s it that’s all. And there’s no reason that can’t be happening more often and I still think it’s starting to happen in some board books. From happy Yak My Words, MY WORLD, in 100 words Halloween. So this is, this is a basic vocabulary word book, but the family in it happens to have two moms who hold hands. The rest of them just words, but they’re there and it like matters that they are there.

A: They have another one in that series. I think it’s called my house, my home? And the protagonist is a wheelchair using child, actually it’s also well done incidental, but disability rep in this case, it’s a good series.

13:47 Yeah, it’s a good series. There’s not a lot to say about like vocabulary books like that so when you see something that kind of stands out like this it’s like, oh, kids can see their families in this or themselves instead of it being, you know, pictures of trucks only.

14:07 C: I thought of one more picture book two before we move to talking about the other picturebooks  The one from Yeehoo called WHEN I’M NOT LOOKING , that also has two moms. Yeah, which I feel like, do we have more incidental two mom representation, we have two dads? 

K: 100% Yes, without a doubt, because there’s been more of a tradition to showing to mom families since like back to the 80s, because it was more acceptable, socially, for sure.

For two women to have a baby, or two, like, female identified humans. So, like, just in general.

It has always been more acceptable for two women to parent together. Than it has ever been for two men so the the struggle for that has been a lot longer so the fact that we’re starting to see more books with two dad families is a really new phenomenon. And if we think back to like the first mainstream picture book, with a queer family 


15:17 A: Kelly, actually did a really great or started a really great history of LGBTQ representation in picture books. Last June was that last June? 

K: Yeah so I started that series back, back in June, but you know I sort of moved across the country I had to cut it off, but you know I did a lot of research into LGBTQ kid lit and its history and it’s a pretty short history we’re talking like 1979 is the first time there was even really a self published book that was actually provably sold in a bookstore. And, and that was also two mom family it was called when man went away and and and then the first really mainstream book ever was HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES  as I said so, you know, we’re really.

There were a few books here and there. One of them was DADDY’S ROOMMATE which is just full of 90s dad bod goodness it’s a really strange, but neither of those were incidental representation, they were all about challenge.  And, you know, the problem with that challenge narrative is, it’s, it’s simultaneously upholding the things that it’s trying to smash through

16:34 C: You made a really good point earlier Kelly when you’re chatting before we started recording, when we were talking about what books, we’re going to talk about and sort of the difference between incidental representation and joyful representation, because there are definite like it’s sort of one of those things where joyful representation is an umbrella and like incidental representation is under that umbrella. I guess, because there’s a way to have incidental representation and just have it be a passing thought, or there’s it’s incidental yes but also it like celebrates. 

17:13 K: So, you know, we could talk about a few different books like LOVE VIOLET, FROM ARCHIE TO ZACK, PRINCESS AND MAIDEN, PRINCE AND KNIGHT series.

Some of those, those are about queer love. So they’re extremely I think all all four of those are that whole that whole group of books are incredibly joyful books are incredibly affirming, they’re, they’re beautiful stories all of them, but there, they are stories that are about queer love so

there’s nothing incidental about it. We were kind of agonizing as we were preparing for this episode about stories that are expressly about queer families that aren’t like designed to be like fun read alouds that are more about like a really specific topic.

So a couple of them would be like GRANDDAD’S CAMPER. 

That’s a story about their family. Right. It’s about granddad’s partner who has passed, and talking to his granddaughter about his husband who’s passed away. 

So you know, to me that’s still It’s joyful and unchallenged representation, but it’s not really incidental, that’s an integral part of the story. 

18:37 A: Hmm, that’s a good point, is it integral to the story to define whether or not it’s incidental

K: Actually Lucy Catchpole is somebody that I’ve talked about this at length with and I bet if we could ever get her on the podcast again she would she would really get into it and she’s brilliant but no brilliant. 

C: Yes, brilliant 

A: The most brilliant.

18:58 C: A PLAN FOR POPS too is what I would put with GRANDDAD’S CAMPER too, definitely joyful representation definitely very intentional.

K: It’s extremely intentional in that story and it’s very skillfully done and of course that one is a forever, intense favorite of mine just like granddad’s camper.  But, you know, I don’t think that story works the same way without it being. These two specific granddad’s that have different personalities and there’s something very specific about that story to me that I don’t think you can separate that story from who’s from the characters in the book right? So BATHE THE CAT, you could kind of pop in almost any family, it might be probably wouldn’t be as good. To be honest, but you could

C: Yeah BATHE THE CAT just really does it. The story is hilarious in illustrations, and it’s hilarious in text, and so like either or would be hilarious when they’re together, then it’s just magic doing jazz fingers that nobody can see except for Ale and Kelly 

20: 02 K: invisible glitter everywhere, because it’s easy to clean glitter. 

C: Yes biodegradable only please. So Orca had a couple board books come out too at the end of 2021 that had incidental representation.

K 20:21: So, there is a series from like you said Orca and there by Lawrence Schimmel, and one is called BEDTIME NOT PLAYTIME and the other one is called EARLY ONE MORNING and they’re very short order books, but one of them is a family playing before bedtime

with their mischievous dog. And the other one is about the kid that gets up before his family, and also has a mysterious cat. I’m all about was mischievous animals.

C: There’s a running theme in your life.

K: Yeah. Sure is. Pickle is very mischievous Um, so I think what similar to BATHE THE CAT with these two board books is. I think you could kind of like in my opinion you could kind of drop any family into the pages of this book and it still makes sense. The most important thing is the kid, and their pet, and getting into mischief when their parents aren’t exactly looking, which is a time honored tradition of toddlers.  And I think, and I think in a lot of ways that’s that’s that’s what I really mean by incidental representation and that’s why we’ve talked about BATHE THE CAT about 16 times now, which is really like that.

A:  Yeah, we really liked that book and I’m just like kind of sitting here mulling on it. Just wondering, would it really be the same story if if there were in two dads in it? 

Like really like it technically it would it would make sense if you took it out and put it in a mother and father know what would it be the same? I don’t know I feel like it would be fundamentally feel different. As a store..

22:05 C: I like this question. Here’s my two cents, it would be the same story to some people, it wouldn’t be the same story to other people like it wouldn’t be the same story to me, I wouldn’t give it the time of day. It’s a fabulous story and it’s hilarious. But it’s, it’s not one that like there are lots of hilarious books. I want delicious joyful delightful queer representation, with my humorous picturebooks.

22:34 K: And, you know, part of that is, you know, when you belong to a group of people that has been historically marginalized. You waited your whole life to see that right? So when you finally see it it’s like, not only is this a great story, but also it affirms me as a human being so in definitely is bringing a really important layer that amplifies my enthusiasm and love for the book like through the roof. Was that the ceiling before but it just takes it right up in a rocket ship to the sky. And so, would it be the same book of course not. It wouldn’t be, but it would still be really funny.

A:   it would it would still be a story about a mischievous cat and a family getting ready for grandma, but it would be a fundamentally different and less good story and less interesting and less important, you know it’s it’s doing a groundbreaking thing. And so even though we talked about the word incidental like it’s almost, we could get rid of it and it wouldn’t be there I think that the power of it is

K: is intensely powerful!  The Untold power right on the head power. Yeah, it’s, it reaches a part, it’s a window in a mirror.  That’s so important and it reaches a part of your heart that’s totally different. But, you know, for families that this represents kids that are in a two dad family.

They’re reading this book and they’re like, Oh, we can just be a funny family too like I feel like we are every single day. And it’s an affirmation of who they are, but the other effect that we haven’t talked to fit enough is that a book like this so are so enthusiastic about because it’s so funny. And they’re going to buy it because it’s so funny, even though they might not be interested in buying FROM ARCHIE TO ZACK or LOVE VIOLET that are so intensely about childhood, same gender crushes. They’re going to buy this book and they’re going to have this really normal funny joyful representation of a queer family in their home, where they may never have that.

C: Yeah,

A: It’s a good book by it.

C: Right, like how can we follow that up?

A: Great.

K : And the same as Mr Watson’s chickens, which, you know, has this wonderful retro vibe, and the fact that you have a story where you’ve got, Mr. Watson and Mr Nelson his first name is never come up which is such a like sort of 1960s way of writing a children’s book.

But normally it would be Mr Mrs Watson, but this is Mr. Watson and Mr Nelson, and they live in their great big house, and to make themselves happy they just fill it up with chickens and who doesn’t want that?

25:21 A: You know what’s really usual about that book is that there weren’t any children in it. 

K: I know I think about it all the time. 

A: You don’t see a lot of picture books these days were them, whether it’s like a grown man or two grown men any, any number of men.

Without a child, 

K: We’re not limiting the number of

A: without children there. As part of that story and I guess the chickens are the children in this equation but I have, 

25:26 K: I have definitely been thinking about this and I think that that is actually from a storytelling perspective that’s end it ends up being what happens is that

the animals are the children, you have to have somebody that needs to be cared for. 

A: Is that what it is?

K: Maybe?

C: likewe have talked about this so much and I don’t know if it’s ever been recorded, or I don’t know if it has ever not been recorded, because we’ve definitely talked

K: I think if we were to look back on the podcast and now we’ve recorded a lot of episodes so we start losing track. But I think it at least one of the episodes where we’re talking about like representations of animals. You have a, an anthropomorphize to animal in a story, which the chickens kind of are and Mr Watson’s chickens there the child and the story that the child can sort of see themselves in.  They are the teddy bear in whatever story, or the mouse in the graph below, or whatever, right.  But we have a book that only has two adult humans, it’s not that often that you see no human children that story so the animals become the substitute for the children and the adults or the parents.

27:09 A: This is an interesting, interesting phenomenon.

C: We’ve certainly digressed. The sounds like another episode in the making. Should we wrap it up and go eat some snacks?

A: I think we should wrap it up. Eat some snacks.

C: Great. All right, thank you so much for listening.

Find us wherever you want to listen to podcasts or, you know, call me up. I’ll talk to you personally, probably, I absolutely will not do that.

K: But do listen do subscribe tell your friends.  And that’s it for another episode of the picture of extreme podcast. Yeah.

Books mentioned

5:21 MR WATSON’S CHICKENS by Jarret Dapier and Andrea Tsurumi from Chronicle Books

BATHE THE CAT by Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts from Chronicle Books 

9:58 HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY  by Jessie Sima from Simon 

11:54 NOT QUITE NARWHAL by Jessie Sima from Simon
AN ORDINARY DAY by Elana K. Arnold and Elizabet Vukovic from Beach Lane Books 

13:18 HALLOWEEN: MY WORLD IN 100 Words from Happy Yak and MY HOME: MY WORLD IN 100 WORDS (Disability rep)

14:20  WHEN I’M NOT LOOKING by Farren Phillips from Yeehoo Press

15:20 HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES by Leslea Newman and Laura Cornell from Candlewick

16:20 DADDY’S ROOMMATE by Michael Willhoite from Alyson Books 

17:13 K: LOVE VIOLET by Charlotte Sullivan Wild and Charlene Chua from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 FROM ARCHIE TO ZACK by Vincent Kirsch from ‎ Harry N. Abrams

MAIDEN AND PRINCESS by Daniel Haack, Isabel Galupo, et al. from Little Bee Books

PRINCE AND KNIGHT by Daniel Haack and Stevie Lewis from Little Bee Books 

18:09 GRANDDAD’S CAMPER by Harry Woodgate from Little Bee Books 

18:58 A PLAN FOR POPS by Heather Smith and Brooke Kerrigan from Orca 

20:21 BEDTIME NOT PLAYTIME by Lawrence Schimel and Elīna Brasliņa from Orca 

EARLY ONE MORNING by Lawrence Schimel and Elīna Brasliņa from Orca 

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