Castro Bookstore Hosts First Drag Storytime

by Matthew S. Bajko

Bay Area Reporter

Saturday June 29, 2013

Quinn Baggott had a question for the person set to read to a dozen children at Books Inc. in the Castro. The 5-year-old wanted to know why they were wearing rainbow garb?

"It is a special time of year for people like me; we throw a big party. The rainbow flag is related to it, so I decided to wear a rainbow. Plus, it's fun," responded the storyteller, drag queen Mutha Chucka.

Decked out in rainbow angel wings, a rainbow tie-dye inspired dress, and a rainbow wig that looked plucked from a Dr. Seuss story, Mutha Chucka had come dressed to impress last Saturday for what the Market Street bookstore had billed as "America's very first drag queen storytime."

"Do you guys like to read?" Mutha Chucka, whose real name is Chuck Gutro, asked her young audience, which replied, "Yeah!!"

"Do you like stories?" she next asked, which also received an enthusiastic "Yeah!" reply.

The store's children's department staff had picked out three books for their drag queen hostess to read. The first two were by Mo Willems, an Emmy-winning former writer and animator for "Sesame Street."

First up was "That is Not a Good Idea," a story about a wolf who lures a duck into the woods. All the while her chicks keep warning her that following the wolf isn't such a good idea.

Next was "A Big Guy Took My Ball," about an elephant and whale bonding over their large sizes. The yellow and red polka dot ball in the book looked just like a dress she owns, Mutha Chucka told the kids.

When one girl remarked she didn't think it was nice for the whale to steal the ball from the elephant, Mutha Chucka chimed in, "I don't think so either."

The final story was "And Tango Makes Three," about a male penguin couple given an egg to hatch. The book has garnered international headlines for being banned by several school districts and libraries.

Even though several of the children told Mutha Chucka they owned the book, and one girl announced that her mom had read it to her the night before, they enthusiastically asked to hear it be read again.

"I love penguins. They never have to worry about what they're wearing," said Mutha Chucka. "No polka dots or rainbows; it's always a tux."

For her turn as a storyteller, Mutha Chucka won rave reviews from the children.

"He did wonderful," said San Francisco resident Mason Kreis, 10, who will be in fifth grade in the fall.

Kreis is himself a budding drag queen and was first introduced to Mutha Chucka a few years ago by his mom, who used to work with Gutro.

"My friend Chuck makes dresses for me and we do drag stuff together," he said.

Kim Kreis called the bookstore's decision to host a drag storytime "wonderful."

"I love it," she said. "It is so great for the kids to be exposed to the diversity of the community."

Menlo Park resident Amy Baggott, who along with her son brought daughters Jessica, 12, and Roxie, 9, to the reading, has also known Gutro for years and had arranged for him to do a drag performance at her children's school in the past.

"We always try to come to the city for a Pride event," she explained, "and when we heard Chuck was doing this reading for the first drag storytime we decided to pick this event this year."

Jessica Baggott gave her "Uncle Chuck" two thumbs up when asked what she thought about his storytime performance.

Books Inc. also deemed the reading a success and plans to ask Mutha Chucka to come back for a second storytime.

"I was nervous no one would show," said Maggie Tokuda-Hall, director of the company's children's department, who was happy with the turnout. "The ratio of kids to grown-ups was really strong. It was a true children's event."

"I love this is a part of our job," added Caitlin Ayer, who oversees school programming for the company, which has several locations around the Bay Area.

Asked about returning for another reading, Mutha Chucka told the Bay Area Reporter that she would "absolutely" come back. She joked it was in her interest to read to kids because it was a way to build up her future fan base.

Plus, children love drag queens, she said.

"To them I am a fairy godmother. They love the wigs, the nails, the jewels," she said.

Ayer and Tokuda-Hall are both fans of drag shows and pitched the idea of hosting a drag storytime to Ken A. White, manager of the Castro Books Inc. Within a week White had lined up Gutro to volunteer.

Tokuda-Hall said the concept was a bit of a harder sell to the public, as many people at first thought the store was planning to hold a storytime for drag queens.

"We would host that too if folks wanted it," she said.

In late May while attending BookExpo America, the largest annual book convention held in North America, Tokuda-Hall said she also "had to spend a lot of time to explain it to people."

Some were skeptical at first. But once they realized Tokuda-Hall was talking about a bookstore in the heart of San Francisco's gayborhood, "people said it sounded great," she said.

In February Philadelphia-based drag queen Martha Graham Cracker made headlines after Haddonfield Child Care in New Jersey asked her to read Dr. Seuss titles to its kids but then disinvited her after supervisors at the after-school program deemed her to be inappropriate. The reading ended up taking place in downtown Philadelphia at the historic Christ Church Neighborhood House.

The program "NewNowNext" on Logo last fall posted a video online that featured contestants from the show "RuPaul's Drag Race" reading the children's book "Goodnight Moon" and followed it up with a second video featuring drag queen Shangela reading "Are You My Mother?"

"Everyone knows that the best bedtime story is one read by a drag queen," proclaimed the website.

The Books Inc. staffers had looked online to see if any other bookseller had invited a drag queen to read to kids but came up empty. Saturday Tokuda-Hall thanked the parents and children at the inaugural event "for joining us for a little bookstore history."

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