Books

Life-affirming story of two gay grandads can teach us all a lesson about love, family and grief

Maggie Baska June 18, 2022
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Side by side images of Harry Woodgate author and illustrator wearing an orange turtleneck top and clear framed glasses. On the right sign is an image of the cover of their illustrated children's book titled Grandad's Camper which features a drawing of an older man and his granddaughter in a pink and white van with a progressive Pride flag hanging out one side of the car

Harry Woodgate, author and illustrator of Grandad's camper, discusses the importance of inclusive children's literature. (Provided)

An award-winning non-binary children’s author explains the importance of children’s books where being LGBTQ+ is just a fact of life.

Harry Woodgate is the author and illustrator of Grandad’s Camper – a colourful story about a gay grandad who regales his granddaughter with stories of his adventures with her other grandfather, gramps.

The heartwarming tale – which is Woodgate’s debut as an author-illustrator – touches on themes vital to the human experience like love, relationships and grief. Grandad’s Camper has garnered critical acclaim and won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Best Illustrated Book 2022. 

Woodgate tells PinkNews that the book was inspired by research they did for their university dissertation project, which focussed on LGBTQ+ representation in illustrated children’s books.

 

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A post shared by Harry Woodgate (@harrywoodgateart)

Woodgate says there were two main issues that arose from their years of research: a lack of older characters and a “lack of stories which are not about a character being queer”. 

“Especially the very young kids, you tend to get books which are like ‘it’s OK to be gay’ or ‘it’s OK to be trans’  – and those books are needed,” they explain. 

“But if those are the only books that you present to very young children, then there’s the implicit suggestion that being LGBTQ is different, it’s not the norm – whatever the norm is.”

They began to look for kids’ books that had “incidental” representation – where kids see LGBTQ+ people living their lives, doing “boring things”, “going on adventures” and “falling in love”. Unsurprisingly, there “weren’t that many”. So, they created their own.

 

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A post shared by Harry Woodgate (@harrywoodgateart)

Woodgate says they’ve always questioned naysayers who think that children’s books can’t be as “deep and meaningful as adult fiction” or that LGBTQ+ stories should focus on the “struggles of being queer”. 

“These [children’s books] are the foundations of another generation’s interactions with the foundations of exploring who they are and their place in the world,” Woodgate says. “So I couldn’t think of anything more important.”

Without being “annoyingly humble about it”, Woodgate is confident that Grandad’s Camper is a good book, and they believe in it as it touches on “more universal themes”. 

“So the fact that it isn’t just the queer books, that it is about family, and it’s about getting through a period of grief,” Woodgate says. “I think maybe the fact that it is a book about those wider themes as well makes it more approachable for a wider audience.”

Part of what informed Woodgate on research on how illustrated children’s books contribute to a child’s “sense of visual literacy or their understanding of images and how they learn to decode forms of media”.

This can impact their perceptions of “sex, gender and sexuality… everything like mental health, culture, how the world works,” they explain.

“It’s actually surprising looking at this sort of psychological aspect and seeing how these representations in early years media have quite a lasting impact.”

Grandad’s Camper is the focus of Just Like Us’ new free educational resources for School Diversity Week, which runs from 20-24 June this year. 

 

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