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Square Zair Pair
Text JF. Pierets Illustrations Christine Knopp
Square Zair Pair is an LGBT themed children’s book about celebrating the diversity of couples in a community. The story takes place in the magical land of Hanamandoo, a place where square and round Zairs live. Zairs do all things in pairs, one round with one square. But one day when two square Zairs pair for the first time, the village initially rejects them before learning a lesson in kindness and acceptance – ultimately realizing different pairs of Zairs make their village stronger. In conversation with writer and The Advocate journalist, Jase Peeples.
Why write a children’s book?
Years ago, a friend of mine told me that he and his husband were having trouble finding children’s picture books with positive LGBT themes they could share with their daughter so I wanted to help. Square Zair Pair is about these creatures that come in two shapes, round and square. In this magical land that they live in, they always pair up as one round with one square. The story is about what happens to the village when one day two square Zairs pair up, and they mistreat this brand new couple they have never seen before. Ultimately, it’s a story that accentuates the possible differences between couples.
The Zairs don’t have a gender. Was that important?
It was very important to me to have the Zairs free from gender, because traditional gender identities bring with them a lot of preconceived notions and assumption. I wanted to highlight how much we love to focus on sexuality and gender by removing it from the equation. When we replace the concepts of sexuality and gender with two very basic shapes, round and square, the ridiculousness of arguments against same-sex couples becomes even more apparent.
And not writing about sexuality makes it more accessible for children, no doubt.
Absolutely. Sexuality is indeed never specifically stated in the book. Instead I used an allegory, which is a much easier thing to digest, even for someone who may have reservations about such a story being read to children. I aimed for 6 to 10 years of age but I’ve had the honor of reading it to much younger children and they seem very captivated by it. People are very receptive.
Did you have books like that, when you were young?
As the son of a librarian, picture books were a very important part of my experience in how I saw the world as a young child. However, there were never any stories that positively highlighted the ways in which I was different as a gay person. And as I got older I realized there really weren’t many books with a narrative on different types of families. It’s my hope that Square Zair Pair can help both young people who feel they are different, and those who may come from same-sex families. I hope it can become an instrument to help realize their differences should be celebrated, regardless of whom they “pair” with.
How’s the atmosphere in the US when it comes to LGBT themed books?
When it comes to children’s books it’s a growing field. You see them more and more these days, but it’s still an issue that same-sex couples or families with same-sex parents are seen as “different.” So I think there’s a lot more work to be done. I would love for a book like this to be in every school, to be a part of the curriculum, especially for younger kids. I would love for it to be a part of ‘Spirit Day’, which is a day we celebrate to raise awareness against bullying. I think it’s a perfect tool for a curriculum that embraces that day and that message all year round.
Next to being an author, you’re also a journalist for The Advocate, the oldest and largest LGBT publication in the United States.
I’ve been with The Advocate for about 5 years now. I love being part of that voice and I love highlighting some issues that perhaps other people in journalism wouldn’t think twice about. When I wake up in the morning it’s comforting to go to an office where things that are important to the LGBT community are discussed, and I love the ways in which we are aiming to encompass more than just that group; fighting for rights for women, or for people of color for example. All these things are part of our community as well, no matter where we come from, who we are, whom we love or what we look like.
‘Be patient and trust yourself. Look for others who are like you and don’t get caught up so much on those who aren’t.’
What are the significant changes in LGBT rights that happened over those 5 years?
When I started at The Advocate we did not even have marriage equality in the state of California, but today we have marriage equality on a federal level. I think that’s one of the biggest things. But there is also the changing landscape of entertainment, the increase of our visibility and representation in Hollywood. We are seeing more LGBT characters and story lines on prime time television that are seen in millions of homes across America. I know we can continue to change the world for LGBT people and I’m trying to do what I can to aid that cause as a part of The Advocate team.
You won the “Journalist of the Year” 2013/14 award. That’s quite something.
It was a surprise and a wonderful honor. I thought that was such a marvelous reminder of how much the world is changing and taking LGBT stories seriously.
Will you continue writing children’s books?
I’d love to continue writing children’s books. Square Zair Pair has been in the making for a few years now so I’m very happy it is finally seeing the light of day. I’m looking forward to pushing that a little further for the next year and if the time is right after that for another book, absolutely!
If you could talk to your younger self, what would you say?
I would say to be patient and trust yourself. Look for others who are like you and don’t get caught up so much on those who aren’t. Believe in yourself and just keep the faith. It’s easy to get absorbed in the things that aren’t working, but if we take a look at how they can work and how they can be better, especially when we’re younger and we have something to look up to and inspire us, then we’re all going to be ok. And that’s exactly why I wrote Square Zair Pair. This book is what I wished I had when I was younger.
Square Zair Pair is written by Jase Peeples with art by Christine Knopp. The book is available in hardcover and in eBook form for Kindle here.
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