The children’s book “King & King” has prompted bans, a lawsuit and even a bill in Congress from those offended by the story’s portrayal of a gay prince.
Published in this country in 2003, the book tells the story of Prince Bertie, who is single despite his mother’s wish that he marry. The queen puts out an invitation to the world’s princesses to come meet her son. None who arrive suit the prince, who tells the queen, “I’ve never cared much for princesses.” Bertie eventually meets Prince Lee and they fall in love and get married.
The last page of the book features an illustration of the two kings kissing, with a red heart covering their lips.
The book, by Dutch authors Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland, is recommended for children from ages 5 to 8, according to the website of the U.S. publisher, Tricycle Press. A 2004 sequel, called “King & King & Family,” tells the story of the two kings adopting a child. Reviewers called “King & King” a good book to teach young readers about same-sex couples.
But the book has been challenged by parents and others who said it was inappropriate. Parents in Massachusetts sued a school district in 2006 over “King & King” after it was used in a second-grade classroom; same-sex marriage was already legal there at that time. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, calling diversity the hallmark of the nation. An appellate court upheld that ruling.
In 2005, the book prompted U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican from Farmville, to sponsor a bill in Congress that would have mandated boards made up of parents to review books for use in schools. Schools that didn’t use the panels would be ineligible for federal funding under the bill, which later died in committee.
But educators say teachers are obligated to try to reach all students, said Jocelyn Glazier, associate professor of education at UNC-Chapel Hill. Glazier said she has used “King & King” in her course about children’s literature, but she did not teach Omar Currie, the teacher at Efland-Cheeks Elementary.
“We have a lots of diversity within our classroom, whether it’s cultural diversity, whether it’s diversity in terms of sexual orientation, whether it’s diversity with regard to gender,” Glazier said. “So it’s important for us to have books that represent all of our students in our classrooms.”
Books can help students process their world in a non-threatening way through talking about characters, Glazier said.
“Literature is a really powerful way of helping to engage important conversations, but also to help kids understand one another,” she said.