A dozen captivated kids surrounded Akasha Lestat Van-Cartier, whose blue ball gown sparkled as she read: “I am thankful for my hair, because it makes me unique. I am thankful for my ears, because they let me hear words like, ‘I love you.’”
This is the fourth month Van-Cartier has spent time at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s North Side branch reading kids books about respect, self-confidence and being the person you want to be.
“A lot of them, it took them time to realize, oh, she’s just a big kid in a Halloween costume trying to have fun with us. And after that … some of them actually wore costumes and princess gowns and crowns,” she said.
Van-Cartier said she hopes coming in drag can help teach tolerance.
“They are children, but they do live in our world and they need to know these are life experiences, and that if you don’t experience them now or you don’t know about them, you’re just in the dark until the future and then people would just consider you ignorant,” she said. “So it actually expands their minds and shows them that there’s so much more to life than what you would really experience in a close-minded setting.”
The program is in a pilot phase, but Catie Morphew, lead librarian for children’s and teen’s services at the Carnegie branch, said she hopes to continue and expand to other locations. She said the story hour is part of an effort to diversify programming, especially for LGBT families.
“Not just to see stories that reflect their families, but also to be around other families that are like theirs and have a chance to socialize and connect with other parents and caregivers,” she said.
Van-Cartier said she’s gotten as much from reading to kids as she hopes they’re getting from her.
“My friends have even noticed that I’m more tolerant and caring,” she said. “I listen more. They’re small lessons the kids are teaching me while I’m trying to teach them.”