What's your story- Ellie Royce! The Birth of Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero.
Usually I talk to a Kidlit creator once a month (who isn't me) about their story , but as I've just celebrated the release of my new picture book Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero written by moi, illustrated by Hannah Chambers and published by Pow!Kids Books I thought you may be interested in the story of how this book came about.
The Beginning : One of the questions that people ask, especially people who know me, a middle aged, white, cis gender woman is- what inspired you to write a picture book about a Drag Queen?
I take this as a compliment because I love to surprise and challenge people. I love to encourage them to look at things in a different way.
Chatting with my daughter one day about three years ago, we discussed the kinds of books that she and her friends wanted to read to their kids, and the fact that they were largely nonexistent.
She was talking about the kinds of books that show diverse families and their perspective on life. This is a bit of a sensitive issue, given that I totally support own voices stories and I certainly didn’t want to encroach on, or appropriate, a story that wasn’t mine to tell.
However, it did really make me examine my writing process and ask myself why I was using the same old framework to construct my stories when society had clearly moved on and needed to see real communities with real diversity portrayed in children’s literature. It seems as though it’s always been okay to use anthropomorphism to get around this conundrum but honestly, I’m just not very good at that type of story, so it was a real challenge to try and get it right.
I started thinking about the themes and concepts I wanted to work with, respect, diversity, inclusion, equity, courage and unconditional love, and about how these essential qualities exist everywhere, in all kinds of people.
Then I recalled a former colleague of mine who cared for disabled and elderly people as his day job and did it beautifully. His clients absolutely loved him. He did drag on weekends and had a whole tribe of nieces and nephews who adored him.
I was also really interested in the concept of ‘courage’ because it seems to me there’s different kinds of courage. There’s the outward kind, as in when my character dives into the path of an oncoming float to save a runaway puppy, then there’s the kind that is personal and maybe the hardest to muster up, the courage to be your true self.
Society accepts and often rewards that outward courage, but the other kind, the courage to be true to your heart and soul - despite possible negative reactions/responses from others - that’s usually much more of a challenge to deal with.
Everyone can identify with this challenge in their own way, but I feel it’s particularly relevant to LGBTQI+ kids and rainbow families.
How to roll of this up into a child-centred story?
And of course, that was the key. Seeing this relatively complex scenario through the child narrator’s eyes and listening to their voice was when it became simple.
They told me: I love my Uncle Leo; I love my Auntie Lotta and it’s really cool and fun that they’re both the same person!
When the question was posed who should accept the award, the answer- through my child narrator’s eyes- was simple. Why can’t you both accept the award?
When the gender of Leo and Lotta becomes a bit more fluid and less binary later in the story, my child narrator simply says: I love Uncle Leo and Auntie Lotta, but I think maybe I love my Auntie Uncle best of all
*spoiler alert* There's a happy ending!
The End: which of course, is always a new beginning!
This story was a joy to write, and perhaps that’s partly because I never for a minute thought it would be published!
Just three short years ago, the world was quite a different place. Australia hadn't even voted YES to same sex marriage (or as I prefer to call it, love is love.)I wrote the story and then hung onto it until one day I saw a tweet that said - "where are all the picture books about drag queens?"
Taking that as my cue, I sent the text to my U.S. agent at Storm Literary, and was thrilled and almost astonished when someone ( fabulous Jordan Neilsen) expressed their interest in publishing it!
Fast forward three years and we see Drag really having a moment right now. I feel like the best thing about Auntie Uncle being out in the world is seeing it in the hands of the people I wrote it for! I’ve connected with at least half a dozen real life “Auntie Uncles” who are overjoyed with the book, and this is such a heartwarming and validating outcome.
It’s been a very special project and I’m extremely grateful to have been able to work on it. I love the vibrant and emotive illustrations Hannah Chambers created, they are an animator as well as an illustrator, you can tell, can’t you? The illustrations just leap off the page and into your heart.
And as for both my my daughters, well, there are no grandkids on the horizon just yet. (No pressure, you guys!) But when they come along, I’ll be so proud to read this book to them, hopefully with lots of others that show all kinds of different ways of being a happy and decent human being and all kinds of loving families.
Of course, the global pandemic that we won't name happened at the same time as Auntie Uncle was released, so there wasn't an actual launch party ( although I did make a little video about it you can watch here)
You can buy Auntie Uncle online, or ask your local bookstore to order you in a copy. If that's not possible for you, why not ask your local library to stock it? I'd love to see it in as many libraries as possible, then it becomes accessible to everyone who wants to read it!
I hope you've enjoyed the story about this story. I have another picture book due out later this year also about a rainbow family... but that's another story!
Talk to you soon,