King & King: A Children’s Fairy Tale At The Center Of Controversy
By: Amber Leventry
“I don’t understand you. Every prince in these parts is married. Every one of them but YOU! When I was your age, I’d been married twice already.” So bemoans the queen who is ready for her son to get married and take over the kingdom. She’s tired and she decides that by the end of the summer, her son will be married. After telling his mother that he has never really cared for princesses, the matchmaking begins.
With bright, unique illustrations and humorous dialogue with the just the right mix of dryness and silliness—my daughter’s favorite part was the crown kitty on every page—King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland invites us to a royal wedding. But not before the search for the prince’s princess introduces us to prospects from many countries. The prince finds reasons with each to not fall in love. The queen isn’t particularly thrilled with the princesses’ first impressions either.
Then Princess Madeleine shows up with her brother, Prince Lee. “At last, the prince felt a stir in his heart.” And with whimsical hearts and butterflies drawn between the two princes, it is clear that the queen will finally get her wish. The wedding has all the makings of a traditional wedding, the queen passes off her royal duties, and all live happily ever after.
Much like the queen’s need for a wedding by the end of summer, this summer also carries the nagging sensation of wonder as we all wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. The queen in King & King is not arguing either side of the debate, she simply wants some time to herself. So when the prince finds a prince, she is happy for him, but also for herself.
As simple as the authors make the relationship between the two princes, drawing parallels to the classic assumptions of love at first sight and happily ever after found in all fairy tales, many people are still having a hard time accepting the fact that men fall in love with each other all of the time. King & King opponents have tried to ban the book from schools and libraries. In 2006 a federal lawsuit was filed against an elementary school in Massachusetts because parents felt the book was too old for second graders and that it constituted sex-education without parental notification.
The judge dismissed the case and said, “Diversity is the hallmark of our nation.”
Our nation’s diversity continues to become more visible and more vocal, but citizens in fear of and against LGBTQ individuals and our rights are still making it hard for us to stand tall as pillars of strength and freedom.
North Carolina third grade teacher Omar Currie recently read King & King to his students after a bullying incident. His goal was to teach that it is important to accept each other the way they are, a lesson Currie, an openly gay man, is adamant about teaching. The students seemed to respond to the message because Currie reported that the name-calling stopped in his classroom.
Students’ parents and school staff members were quick to disagree with Currie’s use of the book, however. Three formal complaints were filed after the book was read, and while the school upheld the use of the book, complaints and appeals continue.
After a lack of support from staff and administrators, Currie has resigned from his position at Efland-Cheeks Elementary School. Vice Principal Meg Goodhand, the woman who let Currie borrow the book, has also resigned because of the controversy. Currie told a local newspaper, “Our first and No. 1 job is to keep students safe. I’m not sure we can keep students safe when we are picking and choosing the families we represent in our school.”
I understand Currie’s choice to resign, but when comments like the following are made in regards to reading a children’s book, I want to beg him to stay: “I don’t think sex should be taught in school, personal hygiene, ok. The schools are trying to normalize homosexuality, it is not normal.” At least we can all agree that personal hygiene is important.
In addition to linking homosexuality to sex and pornography, religion has been the basis of the opponents’ arguments. Many people seem to be hiding behind the Bible to defend their ignorance and bigotry, using it to shield themselves from a children’s book.
Books are meant to educate, entertain, and make us feel included as we read stories about different worlds, experiences, and even families. They should not be feared, banned, or the reason to hate. Nor should they be a reason to force someone’s resignation.
King & King is more than a sweet children’s book about love; it is a testament of how far we need to go before it is simply another story read to our children at school.
Photo Credit: Steven Petrow/Washington Post
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