Sister Catherine was awesome. Sister Catherine taught me how to read, and my phone number, and what prayer meant and the beginnings of self-control.
She read to us. Two books I particularly remember were Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and The Selfish Giant. Because she was a Sister and it was kindergarten, it was kind of a shock to me as an adult when I realized that anyone might consider either of those books controversial.
Sylvester, like a lot of children’s books, features animal characters acting like people. The main character is a donkey and when he mysteriously disappears, his family calls the police. The controversy over this book, published in 1969, is that the police are depicted as pigs.
It’s hard to describe “The Selfish Giant” without giving away the ending, but on one level it’s a fairy tale and on another it has Christian symbolism. It’s considered a classic and has been included in anthologies such as A Treasury for Six Year Olds, The Children’s Book of Faith, and Easter Treasures.
I guess I didn’t really think about who the author was until (at a previous job) someone questioned my classifying the book with some other Christian fiction. My first thought was that someone might have stripped the story of the more explicitly religious elements while adapting it to picture book format. But as I thought more about it, I realized that the the person who raised the issue might really have been objecting less to the actual book and more to who the author was.
Because if you ask, “Who was Oscar Wilde?” the answer usually includes these elements: he was a writer, he was known for his flamboyant personality, and he was imprisoned for homosexual acts. But because of Sister Catherine, his notoriety isn’t the first thing I think of. The Selfish Giant is still a book I put out on display at Easter time every year (and I was upset when our last picture book version of it got lost last year and relieved when it reappeared on the shelf this spring).
When I was asked to pick some books for the GLBT Book Month display in the lobby, I thought of some of the classic, much-loved authors who fall into this category. I actually forgot to put any Langston Hughes books in last year’s display, but several artists have recently made beautiful picture books by illustrating his poetry. I’m also planning to feature books by Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales are even better known than Oscar Wilde’s.
The resources for GLBT Book Month include tools to find books by contemporary authors. The Stonewall Book Awards and the Rainbow Book List can help you find books with characters who are gay, or gender-fluid, or living in a diverse community or just figuring things out. The display will have something– old or new– for everybody.