Drag Queen Story Hour Engages Kids With Reading, Gender Creativity

Black Benatar reads aloud to children at Dimond Recreation Center in Oakland as part of Drag Queen Story Hour.  (Lacy Roberts/KQED)

A drag queen and a 4-year-old walk into a public library. It's not the setup to a joke -- it's Saturday morning in Oakland at the Drag Queen Story Hour.

Hundreds of parents and kids crowded into the Dimond Recreation Center on a recent Saturday to hear drag queen Black Benatar read Pride-themed storybooks.

According to its website, Drag Queen Story Hour is "just what it sounds like -- drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores." The program started in San Francisco and has spread to cities across the United States.

Miriam Meadow first heard about Drag Queen Story Hour when it was held at the San Francisco Public Library two years ago. She immediately knew she wanted to bring it to the East Bay. Meadow is the children’s librarian at the Dimond Branch Library.

She expected 100 people to attend when Drag Queen Story Hour came to Dimond earlier this summer. "We had 300 people come here today," she exclaimed, unable to contain a huge smile.

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Dressed to the nines wearing glittery makeup, sky-high curls and a green polka-dot dress, Black Benatar could hardly contain her own excitement.

“I’m Black Benatar and I love reading to children!” she announced, right after teaching the audience to introduce themselves like a drag queen (it’s not “hello”, but more like “HAAAAAAY.”)

Black Benatar reads to children at Drag Queen Story Hour in Oakland.
Black Benatar reads to children at Drag Queen Story Hour in Oakland. (Lacy Roberts/KQED)

Black Benatar led the audience in traditional children’s songs like "Old MacDonald" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," and read some not-so-traditional children’s books whose themes included gay marriage and being transgender. The overwhelming crowd favorite was "My Princess Boy," a tale about a young boy who likes to dress like a girl and is still loved by his family.

As Black Benatar read aloud (with voices and sound effects, of course), the kids in the crowd were eager participants. They even provided their own commentary. After Black Benatar read a line about people bullying the Princess Boy when he shops for girl’s clothes, a young girl shouted out, “That’s not nice!”

“That’s not nice!” Black Benatar echoed emphatically. “It hurts.”

Meadow calls Black Benatar a role model and hopes Drag Queen Story Hour will be offered at more libraries in the Oakland Public Library system next summer.

“Having gender creativity modeled in this way is so important for young kids," she says. "And to have that incorporated with the joy of sharing books fits right in with the library."

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