Children's & Middle Grade · Fantasy · Queer · Sci-Fi

Re-Reading Childhood Favorites is Super Queer

I’ve been re-reading an increasing number of books this year, books from when I was very young that I don’t remember very well at all. I don’t usually re-read very much, but the more I read, the more they jog my memory and lead me to other books I used to love. As a disclaimer, of course I’m not talking about reading children’s books in general — I do that all the time and love it. And similarly, I also read a lot of books meant for adults as a child, but those seem to have lingered in my mind more reliably.

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It’s all very interesting in introspective terms. It’s odd, and pleasant, like visiting a room you sort of remember where you used to have good times. They say you can never read the same book twice because you’re a different person each time, and that’s definitely true with these. I get vague memories of what they were like the first time, or the first dozen times in some cases, and those are invariably memories of me and what I thought and what I wanted. It’s like a whole life I used to have and don’t really think about anymore.

Chicken TreckWhat’s weird, though, is how much I didn’t know about these books and authors when I first read them. Most of them I just happened to find at the library, a random assemblage of famous and obscure books, and I didn’t care about authors at all except to look up more of their books if I read a good one. I read Chicken Trek roughly a gazillion times without ever realizing it’s the third book in a series, despite it being clearly labelled as such on the cover. I never realized that John R. Erickson, the author of the Hank the Cowdog series, was quite so religious, and was surprised to find that I enjoyed his books exactly the same after finding out.

The use of the word “queer” in this post’s title is of course not an accident, and it’s the main thing bringing on this post. In the past three or four months I’ve learned that James Howe, William Sleator, and Bruce Coville are/were all queer in one way or another. James Howe wrote Bunnicula, William Sleator wrote a pile of standalone sci-fi books like House of Stairs and Interstellar Pigand Bruce Coville writes fantasy/sci-fi like Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, I Was a Sixth Grade Alien, The Unicorn Chroniclesand lots more. I absolutely loved those authors, they were some of the few I could name because I sought out more of their books and couldn’t get enough.

It’s not as if these were the only authors I liked, or that the three of them being queer as an aggregate has a special impact on anything. I loved them because they told me stories about dragons and aliens so real I could cry, full stop. It’s just sort of funny because so many things and places I like turn out to be queer and I had no idea. I like to think I learned stuff from them — I remember there’s a gay couple or some such in Coville’s The Skull of Truthand I grappled with their normalization in a clumsy sort of way — but it wasn’t important to me then. In the present, I think it’s cool that he’s bi and Howe has kind of a nuanced queerness, that they’re not just “secretly gay,” because I can identify with them so much more strongly this way. It’s a revelation that has ripples all the way back to that life I used to have and am sort of re-living or remembering now, even though it wasn’t “there” the first time around.

Bruce Coville
Bruce Coville

More importantly, though, it’s just a very strange sensation to realize that these authors have lives of their own. That they grow and change as people, and that they’re separate, not just names attached to a book cover. I don’t really have any profound insights for this post, except that we may be different people every time we read a book, but our authors are too. It’s been twenty years for them too. I could’ve guessed that re-reading childhood books would transport me to my childhood, but I didn’t realize it would be more than nostalgia. I think sometimes I’m afraid to re-read old books because I won’t see them in the same light — they might turn out to have been bad all along — but mostly it’s been the opposite experience. They were good all along, and they’re still good, and because they’ve come along with me and become different books with different authors, they’re even more important to me now than before.

Now I just need to remember the title of that purple book with the modern fairy tale poems…

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