Once upon a time, Bear Bergman was reading to his four-year-old son Stanley before bed. His husband had ordered a big new stack of books that included queer characters. As they read through each book, Bergman realized that every single one contained extended descriptions of bullying, which weren’t that fun for Stanley to hear. “We read a couple, but eventually he looked at me and said, ‘I don't want this anymore. I don't like these bully stories.’ Cue my heart breaking,” says Bergman. “All of a sudden I started thinking: what are we sending our kids to bed with? What are the last images and stories we're offering them before they sleep, to carry into their dreams?”
The lack of books centering on queer stories and kids of color is well documented. Every year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center counts up how many newly published children’s books are by and about people of color. The results are depressing, but would be no surprise to parents like Bergman: In 2013, just eight percent of new books were about people of color and only seven percent were written by people of color.
Infographic by Tina Kugler.
With a lack of good books to choose from, the couple decided to write their own. Now, they’re in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to fund a book series they call Flamingo Rampant Book Club. Over the course of a year, their team of writers and artists will create six brand-new books that center on diverse kids and families that they'll ship to people who join the book club by backing the project. From their campaign page:
“These books will celebrate the great and wide variety of LGBTQ2S kids, families, and communities. That means when our books feature lesbian mums or gay dads, they get storylines: travels, adventures and mysteries to solve, rather than entire books pointing out that we exist. That means fully half of our books every year will center Black, Latin@, Indigenous, First Nations, Asian/Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, and mixed-race people and cultures instead of making them minor, one-line characters—and these books will be written by people of color.”
Also, the books will focus on “adventures or triumphs” rather than bullying.
Bergman himself is an author and editor who has written three books for grown-ups and two for kids and his husband, j wallace, is an educator who’s an expert on gender-independent and trans kids in schools. Together, they plan to use the Kickstarter money to hire authors and artists, then pay for the printing and distribution of their new books. If all goes well, they might distribute the books to stores nationwide, but for now they’re keeping it simple by aiming to just deliver books to people who back the Kickstarter, circumventing the traditional book publishing and distribution system.
Recent activism like the We Need Diverse Books campaign has called attention to the need for children’s books to be more representative of our actual society. Part of the problem, says Bergman, is that many traditional publishers operate under the idea that boys won’t read books about girls (but not vice versa) and that white kids won’t read books about children of color (but not vice versa). For him, the answer to this problem of representation was straight-forward: “We need to make better books. Books that show our kids and families doing well, having travel and adventures and solving mysteries and going to Pride, being whole and happy people in the world.”
Sarah Mirk is Bitch Media's online editor. She would love to read an Octavia Butler picture book for kids, please.