Families are invited to meet with royalty at the Okotoks Public Library on Friday June 7 for 2-4 p.m. for the first Reading with Royalty.
The Library has partnered with Calgary Pride to bring the program to Okotoks, where children can enjoy picture books being read to them by local drag king Shane Onyou and drag queen Felicia Bonee.
The idea to get involved was sparked when library director Lara Grunow attended a session at a conference that talked about inclusiveness and diversity and one of the examples was a drag queen/king story time.
“We wanted to try that here in Okotoks, since we’ve not done a program like that here before” said Sarah Gillie, assistant director for the library. “So we reached out to the Calgary Pride organization and we were able to organize a story time.”
The Reading with Royalty program is collaboration between Calgary Pride, Calgary Queer Arts Society and—until now—the Calgary Public Library since February 2018.
“Originally we had story time at Pride in the Park (as part of Calgary Pride) in 2017 and it was incredibly well received, people were very excited about it,” said Parker Chappel, executive director of Calgary Pride. “We approached the Calgary Public Library and the Calgary Queer Arts Society to work on partnering and bringing the project around on a regular basis for the community.”
The partnership with the Okotoks Public Library marks the beginning of the program’s expansion into other communities.
“We’re really excited to see this program expanding,” said Chappel. “Particularly being able to bring this program out into the rural communities is really important.
“It plays an important role in creating spaces that are diverse and inclusive and breaking down ignorance and discrimination.”
The program focuses on encouraging child literacy, conversations about diversity and inclusion, and normalizing non-typical gender expression.
“It’s the only programming of its kind that introduces the idea of gender expression and gender identity to kiddos under 12 in a super accessible and fun way,” said Chappel. “That’s the crux of it. It’s an opportunity for families to gather, to engage, to create dialogue around gender expression and gender identity and to have fun.”
Chappel said that children are often more exposed to exaggeration of gender as seen in drag than adults, thanks in part to children’s programming. The Reading with Royalty program aims to utilize that exaggerated communication to engage children in conversation about gender expression in a way that is often missed in education.
For the programs, Calgary Pride has a roster of around 20 different performers, including drag queens, drag kings, and monarchs (gender non-binary performers). The performers do a training program with the Calgary Queer Arts Society to review the concepts they will talk about and techniques for engaging story times.
“We’re always trying to offer new programming to the community and this particular program is just celebrating diversity,” said Gillie. “The goal is to encourage children to look beyond gender stereotypes and to raise expressions of self and just allow, not only the children, but just all families to see people who interpret gender and imagine a bright and colourful and rainbow world and that people can express their identities freely.”
At the conclusion of Reading with Royalty the library will be offering a gingerbread-castle decorating program, where families can decorate their castles fit for a queen or king.