Today’s Saturday Spotlight is shining firmly on Auntie Uncle with a special guest post from the author, Ellie Royce.
One of the questions that people ask, especially people who know me, a middle aged, white, cis gender woman is- what inspired you to write a picture book about a Drag Queen?
I take this as a compliment because I love to surprise people and encourage them to look at things in a different way.
Chatting with my daughter one day about three years ago, we discussed the kinds of books that she and her friends wanted to read to their kids, and the fact that they were largely nonexistent. She was talking about the kinds of books that show diverse families and their perspective on life. This is a bit of a sensitive issue, given that I totally support own voices stories and I certainly didn’t want to encroach on anything or appropriate a story that wasn’t mine to tell.
However, it did really make me examine my writing process and ask myself why I was using the same old framework to construct my stories when society had clearly moved on and needed to see real communities with real diversity portrayed in children’s literature. It seems as though it’s always been okay to use anthropomorphism to get around this but honestly, I’m just not very good at that type of story! I started thinking about the themes and concepts I wanted to work with, respect, diversity, inclusion, equity, courage and unconditional love, and about how these essential qualities exist everywhere, in all kinds of people.
Then I recalled a former colleague of mine who cared for disabled and elderly people as his day job and did it beautifully. His clients absolutely loved him. He did drag on weekends and had a whole tribe of nieces and nephews who adored him. I was also really interested in the concept of ‘courage’ because it seems to me there’s different kinds of courage. There’s the outward kind, as in when my character dives into the path of an oncoming float to save a runaway puppy, then there’s the kind that is personal and maybe the hardest to muster up, the courage to be your true self.
Society accepts and often rewards that outward courage, but the other kind, the courage to be true to your heart and soul – despite possible negative reactions/responses from others – that’s usually much more of a challenge to deal with. Everyone can identify with this challenge, but maybe it’s particularly relevant to LGBTQI+ kids and rainbow families.
And of course, that was the key to this story, seeing a relatively complex scenario through the child narrator’s eyes and listening to their voice, because then it became simple. They told me: I love my Uncle Leo; I love my Auntie Lotta and it’s really cool and fun that they’re both the same person! When the question was posed who should accept the award, the answer- through my child narrator’s eyes- was simple. Why can’t you both accept the award? When the gender of Leo and Lotta becomes a bit more fluid and less binary later in the story, my child narrator simply says: I love Uncle Leo and Auntie Lotta, but I think maybe I love my brave Auntie Uncle best of all.
This story was a joy to write, and perhaps that’s partly because I never for a minute thought it would be published! Just three short years ago, the world was quite a different place. Drag is really having a moment right now, and I’ve connected with at least half a dozen real life “Auntie Uncles” who are overjoyed with the book. It’s been such a special project and I’m extremely grateful to have been able to work on it. I love the vibrant and emotive illustrations Hannah Chambers came up with, they are an animator as well, you can tell, can’t you? The visual literacy is wonderful.
And as for my daughter, well, there are no grandkids on the horizon just yet. But when they come along, I’ll be so proud to read this book to them, hopefully with lots of others that show all kinds of different ways of being a happy and decent human being and all kinds of loving families.
Auntie Uncle is available now.
Author: Ellie Royce (introduction by Marti Gould Cummings)
Illustrator: Hannah Chambers
Publication date: 30 April 2020
Ellie Royce was born in Adelaide, South Australia and she’s been telling stories ever since. Although she spent over ten years crafting nonfiction articles for magazines, she finally realized her real love was writing the stories for young people that blossom in her imagination. Ellie is the author of four books, three of which are for children. Her first picture book Lucas and Jack was published in 2014. Ellie truly believes in the power of stories to change the world for the better, so she writes and reads them all the time (quite often when she should be doing other things!).These days Ellie lives in Northern New South Wales Australia and plans to keep writing visionary stories for kids and young adults forever.