Drag Queen Story Hour Puts the Rainbow in Reading

“Yes, they can!” one child cried out.

“No, they can’t,” said another.

“Boys can’t wear dresses,” a third added.

The debate continued as Harmonica Sunbeam listened. Then she leaned down, addressing the children in a conspiratorial stage whisper.


Harmonica Sunbeam with 3-year-old twins Mimi O’Keeffe and Alexander O’Keeffe.

Amy Lombard for The New York Times

“Has anyone ever said anything mean to you?” she asked. The children responded with yeses and nos. “Sometimes it happens.”

This is Drag Queen Story Hour. The brainchild of the writer Michelle Tea and Radar Productions, it is exactly what it sounds like: drag queens reading stories to children. It began in San Francisco in December 2015 and spread to Brooklyn last summer, thanks to social media attention.

“I saw a Facebook post about it,” said Rachel Aimee, the Drag Queen Story Hour coordinator for New York, “and as soon as I saw it, I said, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been waiting for.’” (Ms. Aimee, who doesn’t get paid for her work, plans on incorporating the program as a nonprofit.) She held the first reading at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn last August and caught the eye of Kat Savage, the children’s librarian at the Park Slope branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Subsequent library events were a huge success, bringing in hundreds of patrons and the news media. That, in turn, caught the attention of Hudson Park’s children’s librarian, Stevie Feliciano.


A Gender Fluid Mother’s Day

Drag Queen Story Hour is a program in which drag queens read books to children. In this 360 video, Ona Louise reads a story in celebration of Mother’s Day at Love Child Yoga in Manhattan.

By LOGAN JAFFE and KAITLYN MULLIN on Publish Date May 14, 2017.

Photo by Logan Jaffe/The New York Times. Technology by Samsung..

Watch in Times Video »

Later this spring and summer, the Drag Queen Story Hour will expand to Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan and to the Bronx.

“At first we identified branches that we thought would be excited by it,” said Eva Shapiro, the early literacy coordinator for the New York Public Library. “We didn’t want any surprises. Some neighborhoods are less familiar with the concept. But so far everyone has been thrilled.”

Ms. Aimee agreed, adding, “As long as you don’t read the…

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