More than 100 people packed in to the Colchester Meeting House late Saturday morning for a story hour led by two popular Vermont drag queens, the attendance dwarfing those seen at the regular Burnham Memorial Library story times.
Dressed in white bridal gowns and flowing veils, Emoji Nightmare and Nikki Champagne read children’s books about gender identity and inclusion and led group sing-alongs as kids squealed with delight — a few of them dressed in costumes of their own.
“I have this book at home!” one child exclaimed when the drag queens held up the book “Red: A Crayon’s Story,” all about a blue crayon mistakenly labeled red.
Six-year-old Reid Lord-Audesey of Essex had read the book before, too, he said as he pasted a pink construction paper crown together. The group craft accompanied the book “King and King and Family,” a tale of two married kings who adopt a child together.
Reid is a big fan of drag queens, his mother, Christina Lord, confirmed. They often talk about gender identity and social norms in their family, especially because some relatives are transgender.
“I had only seen pictures before,” Reid said, looking admiringly as Nightmare and Champagne chatted with parents and kids at the front of the room. “I like their lipstick.”
The Burnham event was an extension of the Drag Queen Story Hour program created by writer Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions in San Francisco in 2015. Drag queens are now reading stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores all over the world, according to the site.
“In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress-up is real,” the organization explains.
Burnham library director Kelly McCagg said a library trustee first suggested the idea at their regular meeting after hearing about a DQSH at Fletcher Free Library in Burlington.
McCagg loved the idea and reached out to Nightmare and Champagne online. She said the selectboard, town management and library members were supportive of and excited about the event.
On Saturday, Colchester mom Jennifer Patterson said she was thrilled to see the event pop up close to home. Her daughters fawned over the drag queens during a photo opportunity after the craft time, showing off their own colorful gowns.
“I love drag queens,” Patterson said with a laugh. “They’re great with the kids … And it just exposes them to something they don’t see every day.”
Not everybody was on board with the program, though. McCagg said she and a trustee specifically met with one person who “spoke out” about their concerns before the story hour.
And on the library’s Facebook event page, one commenter opined, “I am so disheartened to see that you would do this to kids!!! They are too young to be exposed to this.”
McCagg said she listened to the complaints, but noted Burnham and other libraries across the world strive to serve as an inclusive home for the community. She said a fair number of the Colchester library’s patrons dress differently than expected based on the gender they were assigned at birth.
“We level the playing field when you walk through the doors,” McCagg said. “We try to treat everybody the same, [and] we want everybody to feel they are welcome here.”
All of the books the drag queens read aloud on Saturday are in the Burnham collection, McCagg said. She said she’d “absolutely” host another story hour with the drag queens and was thrilled by the turnout.
“This is just a starting point,” McCagg said. “It’s a place to start the discussion.”