Children look for themselves in stories. I know I did when I was a kid. I would browse the shelves of every bookshop I could find, picking out the adventures that excited me most, but never quite finding a story that reflected me in its pages. I didn’t know how much this affected me at the time – I was just looking to escape into new worlds where anything was possible. But then it dawned on me that the reason I was looking to escape into these new worlds in the first place was because, as a kid who knew they were gay before they could even find the words to articulate it, I was struggling to find myself in the people around me.
That’s part of the reason why LGBTQ+ fanfiction is so popular – a community desperate to find themselves in their favourite stories, take it upon themselves to create stories within worlds that they so desperately want to escape into. When we can’t find ourselves in the people around us, we look elsewhere, and books can be a solace to many of us.
My debut book, Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow (Simon & Schuster), was inspired, at least in part, by me. Now, I know that sounds astoundingly self-centred, but it’s true. The story itself has no roots in my real life – unlike my main character Archie Albright, I don’t have a relationship with my dad to speak of and, at least the last time I checked, he wasn’t coming out as gay. But it was inspired by those stories that I wished I could see myself in. I wanted to see people who looked like me on the covers of books, leading the story and having adventures. And I wanted to see LGBTQ+ representation in stories so I’d know that I wasn’t alone in the world.
In Rainbow, children who look like me, who have similar stories to me, will see themselves represented, and when I see my book in a shop window or on a table in a bookshop, I’m filled with pride when I remember that fact. There is still lots of work to be done when it comes to representation in children’s fiction, and there are still plenty of stories to be told, but things are getting better, and that’s something positive to hold onto.
And something I can’t stress enough is that these books are not only for children who identify with the main character or storyline in a personal way. I’ve long believed that children’s fiction is a gateway to teaching acceptance, empathy and kindness. To read a vast array of books with characters and stories that don’t always relate to you is one way to give a fuller view of the world instead of only part of it.
June is Pride Month, and as someone who personally loves Pride for all it stands for, it was an obvious choice to include it as a setting in Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow, in the hopes that children will be able to see not only the importance of such an event, but also the joy and happiness that I and thousands of other people feel when we go. It allows us to feel connected to each other more than ever, and children who might feel the same as I did growing up need to know that they’re not alone – that there’s a community out there to stand alongside them. It’s my biggest hope that my book achieves that.
It wasn’t so long ago that Section 28 was repealed. The clause, part of the Local Government Act 1988, banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and in Britain’s schools. The law was partly inspired by a 1983 story book called Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, which aimed to give children information about different types of family relationships. That’s why it’s more important than ever to celebrate families, in all their forms, through children’s books. Some of my favourites include Proud of Me by Sarah Hagger-Holt, adventure series The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by LD Lapinski, and Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton, a picture book retelling of The Little Mermaid.
From Monday 7 June to Friday 11 June, I will be visiting young people virtually across Scotland for the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, which will be themed around Pride. Discussing family, love and inclusivity, the pupils will have the opportunity to write their own colourful adventures. What I love the most about working with young people is that their imagination is endless, and they often have a real passion to write and create stories of their own. It’s how I discovered I wanted to be an author, and it gives me so much pleasure working alongside young people who will one day become our future.
The Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour is run by Scottish Book Trust, the national charity transforming lives through reading and writing. To watch events from the tour and to find out more, visit www.scottishbooktrust.com/tour-on-demand
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