Gay families rejoice: S Bear Bergman is back with a double dose of children’s lit.
The activist and author has written two books, co-edited Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation with Kate Bornstein, and created four award-winning performance pieces. Now, he is releasing two children’s books with a new publishing house — Flamingo Rampant — he co-founded with husband j wallace.
Bergman was pushed into the project by a kids’ camp director who said there were no fun books that featured kids exploring their gender identity. It was a leap: he’d never written children’s books before.
“Writers are in many ways like actors,” Bergman says. “You say ‘yes’ and then you get good at it.”
Luckily, Bergman got good at it quickly: when he read the stories to kids, parents kept asking when they could buy them.
Backwards Day and The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy are now available, and their launch will be celebrated at a family-centred party at the 519 Community Centre on June 17.
Backwards Day is set on a surreal planet where bubble gum falls from the sky, and one day a year, everything — including the heroine’s gender — goes backward.
In The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy, main character Tulip responds to all the birthday wishes of North American nine-year-olds. One day, Tulip receives a wish from a child known as David who wishes to live as Daniela, so Tulip learns how to help.
KD Diamond, who lives in Maine, did the illustrations for Backwards Day, and Pink Triangle Press’s (which publishes Xtra) own advertising art director, Suzy Malik, illustrated The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy.
Malik sketched the pieces in her free time, taking advantage of early mornings to make the project come together. “I didn’t want to do it halfheartedly,” she says. “There was not a lot of sleep.”
Bergman says Malik’s art was a perfect match for the ideas he’d had floating in his head.
“We talked a little bit about what [Tulip] would look like,” Bergman remembers. “But when I saw her original rough sketches of the slightly dirty-looking, chubby, brown-skinned little problem-solving fairy boy, I was like, ‘That is exactly what I want Tulip to look like!’”
However, every publishing house Bergman contacted was too small for his stories. “Everyone basically said the same thing,” he says. “These are lovely little stories . . . We simply do not think there is enough of a market for these ‘specialized’ books.”
Bergman, himself a parent of son Stanley, disagrees. “I think they’re for everyone,” he says. “They’re for everyone in the exact same way that Clifford the Big Red Dog is for children who have dogs, and for children who don’t have dogs.”
At the same time, Bergman knows these books are political. “If everybody was all ‘hunky-dory, kumbaya, follow your harmless heart’s desire’ about trans and genderqueer people, then I wouldn’t have busted my ass for a year,” he says.
Bergman and wallace decided to make the books happen themselves. They put together a video and Kickstarter campaign to front the money, which blew through its $10,000 goal and raised more than $18,000 in funding. Now, Flamingo Rampant has plans to release at least two more titles in 2013, and Bergman will be releasing a book of essays for grownups in 2013.
“Publishing books is surprisingly difficult work,” he jokes, but that doesn’t leave him with any intention to slow down. “I’m just a storyteller,” he says. “It’s really the only talent I have.”