Story hour at many local bookstores is a time-honored tradition, taking children on far-flung adventures and introducing them to interesting places and characters.
In the backyard of Denver’s Second Star to the Right children’s bookstore, story time is bringing some of those characters to life in a new way.
“Well, hello everyone! How’s everyone doing this morning?” greeted guest reader Shirley Delta Blow to the audience.
Between her white spike heels and the teased-to-the-sky red wig, she’s nearly 7 feet tall. On the tiny stage, she towers over the rows of fidgety kids, who are sitting legs criss-crossed on the lawn.
She’s not your usual children’s story time reader, but then again, she’s not reading the usual children’s story.
“This is called ‘Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,’” Blow said.
The book talks about all the ways Morris is a lot like many of the children -- he likes pancakes and playing at recess. It also talks about how he might be different -- he likes to play dress up and his favorite item is a tangerine dress.
“Sometimes the boys make fun of Morris,” Blow read. “Sometimes the girls do, too.”
At this the crowd of children and parents let out a loud, “Awwww!”
It’s a book that Blow can relate to. In real life, Shirley Delta Blow is actually Stuart Sanks, and today is not just any story hour. It’s Drag Queen Story Hour.
“As drag queens we bring happiness and joy and so who better of an audience to serve than kids,” said Sanks, who is also a third-grade teacher. But this was a first time reading in drag.
It’s a first for bookstore owner Dea Lavoie, too.
A typical story hour brings in about 30 people, Lavoie said. For Drag Queen Story Hour, more than 200 people showed up.
“We knew it was going to be big,” she said. “We didn’t know how big.”
Lavoie said the demand may turn a one-off event into a recurring story time.
The guest readers were all performers from the recently wrapped Denver Center for the Performing Arts production “DragOn!” For Shirley Delta Blow, the change in her usual audience is a welcome chance to educate on another level.
“Especially that idea of kind of representing something different than your average-everyday ‘I’m a man wearing pants; I’m a woman wearing a dress,’” Blow said. “We mix it up a little bit. We challenge some of those gender roles.”
While 7-year-old Madeline Ball of Arvada knew this story hour was different from others she’s attended at Second Star, she seemed to take it in stride.
“It just seems like they’re girls, but I know they’re boys,” Ball said. When asked what she thought of that, she added: “I just think it’s kind of strange, but I think it’s part of their personality.”
Madeline’s mom said it was important to bring her to the event.
“It’s a good message for the kids,” Melissa Ball said. “Hopefully they remember it when they go to school and it becomes hard to be different.”
That’s exactly why Lavoie wanted to do Drag Queen Story Hour. She had heard about it happening in cities like San Francisco and New York, where the Brooklyn Public Library’s event a little over a year ago spearheaded the trend.
“I chose books based on how accepting they were about being different because it’s important to me,” Lavoie said. “I have a teaching background and I know what bullying is like, I’ve seen it firsthand. And I wanted to share the feeling of acceptance and being kind to others and embracing your differences. That’s always been what we’re all about anyway.”
While she loves that there are now books like “Princess Boy” and “I Am Me,” Shirley Delta Blow -- aka Stuart Sanks -- said having them growing up would have been helpful.
“I know when I started to come out I would look for anything that I could figure out about gay people or -- I wasn’t into drag or anything then, but just -- people who were different, people who didn’t quite fit in,” she said. “And so I would love to have had these books when I was a kid.”