It takes a certain something to be a good storyteller: enthusiasm, timing and a flair for the dramatic. Performers at a children's story hour at a New York City library have all that and then some - they're drag queens.
About once a month since last fall, the Brooklyn Public Library has been presenting Drag Queen Story Hour, where performers with names such as Lil Miss Hot Mess and Ona Louise regale an audience of young children and their parents. There's even a drag-queen version of "Wheels on the Bus" in which Lil Miss Hot Mess sings of hips that go "swish, swish, swish" and heels that go "higher, higher, higher."
"Drag queens and children don't usually get together, which I think is a shame and one of the benefits of a program like this," Lil Miss Hot Mess said while putting on an outfit that included a silver sequin dress with rainbows, blue and silver glitter eyeshadow and an enormous wig of curly blond hair. The Associated Press agreed not to use the performer's legal name because of fears of harassment.
"It's great that it teaches them self-acceptance in a very general way," she said of the program, which got its start in San Francisco.
At the most recent story hour, children ranging from infants to preschoolers heard about Penelope the hippo, the main character in "You're Wearing THAT to School?!" by Lynn Plourde, which explores ideas of fitting in versus standing out. The children got up and danced and ended the session wearing paper crowns.
Kesa Huey and Sarah Baratti were among the parents who brought their children to the event, and they were glad they did.
"I think we're just looking for exposure to positive role models in as many forms as possible," Huey said.
Baratti said she had taken her daughter to a previous drag queen story hour, and when she asked the girl if she wanted to go again, it "didn't take a lot of convincing."
Something like this program "could be a really positive model for kids," especially since kids in the preschool age range are open to the idea of dressing up and fantasy, said Christia Spears Brown, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky.
It "ultimately provides children with a really flexible model of gender," Spears Brown said.
"And that mental flexibility about gender will benefit all kids, regardless of how gender-typical they themselves are," she said.
The response has been largely positive, said Kat Savage, a children's librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library. She said the readers select the books they want to read, though the library does maintain lists of suggested books for a range of topics.
And for those who don't approve?
"We just tell people: 'If it's not for you, you don't have to come,'" she said.