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The Gay History of Your Favorite Children’s Books

The Gay History of Your Favorite Children’s Books

Back in 1970, author and illustrator Arnold Lobel released the first in a series of award-winning children’s books chronicling the adventures of two good friends: Frog and Toad. Though the pair’s sexuality was never explicitly disclosed in the books, was it possible that Lobel created the characters to teach children about ideas of acceptance, tolerance and compassion?

Author, father and New York Times co-chief theater critic Jesse Green recently examined works by Lobel, Margaret Wise Brown, Maurice Sendak and other prominent children’s book authors and illustrators of the past 50-plus years and discovered that a host of writers of a more conservative era created the best works of their lives - and some of the most influential children’s literature of all time - while largely hiding their sexuality from the public.

In this episode of Paternal, Green discusses the effect those books had on children both gay and straight, why it’s such a triumph that these books have persisted through the years, and what that says about the connection between creativity and repression. He also offers a candid reflection on his own life as a father and the challenges gay men faced in raising children decades ago in New York City, not long after the panic and confusion of the AIDS crisis and when prejudiced polices and strict laws forbade gay men from adopting kids of their own.

  • Read Jesse Green’s article on Lobel and other authors here.

  • Watch Maurice Sendak talk about sexuality and success here.

  • Buy a copy of Jesse Green’s memoir here.

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