âYes, they can!â one child cried out.
âNo, they canât,â said another.
âBoys canât wear dresses,â a third added.
The debate continued as Harmonica Sunbeam listened. Then she leaned down, addressing the children in a conspiratorial stage whisper.
âHas anyone ever said anything mean to you?â she asked. The children responded with yeses and nos. âSometimes it happens.â
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.
âI saw a Facebook post about it,â said Rachel Aimee, the Drag Queen Story Hour coordinator for New York, âand as soon as I saw it, I said, âOh, this is what Iâve been waiting for.ââ (Ms. Aimee, who doesnât 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 childrenâs 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 Parkâs childrenâs librarian, Stevie Feliciano.
Later this spring and summer, the Drag Queen Story Hour will expand to Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan and to the Bronx.
âAt first we identified branches that we thought would be excited by it,â said Eva Shapiro, the early literacy coordinator for the New York Public Library. âWe didnât want any surprises. Some neighborhoods are less familiar with the concept. But so far everyone has been thrilled.â
Ms. Aimee agreed, adding, âAs long as you donât read the…