Local authors examine perspectives on gender, history

Culture
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Meet PolkadotMeet Polkadot Meet PolkadotMeet Polkadot is a children’s book that is written as much for adults as it is for children. Coming out November 22, the book is the second from brand new publishing company Danger Dot, conceived by Taclcott Broadhead, author and illustrator of Meet Polkadot. It is also the first in a series of children’s books reflecting identities outside of the prescripted gender binary of male/female. A main goal of this particular book was to be accessible to those who might be encountering these ideas for the first time.Meet Polkadot

The protagonist, Polkadot, is a transgender child, who, when asked whether a boy or girl, simply states, “No, I’m Polkadot.”

Meet Polkadot is told through dialogue between Polkadot and Polkadot’s more mainstream sister, Gladiola, and best friend, Norma Alicia, as they work through their awareness of what it means for Polkadot to be trans outside of their immediate friends and family. The series will continue to grow along with Polkadot, so that the character remain fresh and relevant to kids as they age, all the while addressing issues that face transgender kids at different stages in their development.

“Gender identity emerges around three, maybe four. That’s the ideal age to talk to kids about gender identity as something more diverse than male or female,” says Broadhead.

As a parent of a four-year-old, Broadhead aimed to make the book both visually stimulating and concise, keeping the content clipped for much of the book, but also including more dense and interactive pages where parents could choose what to read and when, depending on their own child’s attention span, thus keeping it relevant to those of all ages.

Balancing the hefty task of avoiding sensationalism and dodging the gender equivalent of color blindness, Broadhead, a gender studies professor, wrote the book with the intention that the book could be used not just to fill in a conspicuous gap for an underrepresented population for kids and parents, but also as a tool in higher education.

Broadhead started Danger Dot Publishing in order to have complete autonomy of the book, as well as to manage details such as where the paper came from, and right down to knowing the labor practices of the printing company. Printing overseas is fast becoming the standard due to the economical advantage, but this wasn’t aligned with Broadhead’s vision, so the book was printed at a higher cost in Canada and partially funded through Kickstarter. “I was literally emptying my penny jars to get this book out,” says Broadhead, who worked on the book for two years.

Earlier this year, Danger Dot published Thirty-Nine (39) Questions for White People, by local author and Evergreen faculty member Naima Lowe. “Marginalized voices see glaring misrepresentations of themselves, but don’t have the support or access to fill those gaps or represent their voices,” Says Broadhead, who hopes to change this, one book at a time.

Meet Polkadot is available for preorder at Dangerdot.com. Keep an eye out for a presentation at the Olympia Library in December.

The Indian Shirt Story

Another new book, as uniquely Northwest as Polkadot, although in a very different way, is The Indian Shirt Story, by Heather Lockman, released over the summer as an ebook on Musa Publishing. The novel, awarded “Editor’s Top Pick,” is most closely described as historical fiction. Readers will immediately recognize the setting of the fictional town as one suspiciously similar to Olympia—a liberal college in the woods, tiny brewpub, and historical house next to the sound are dead ringers for Evergreen, Fishtale, and the Bigelow House. It’s a story about many things, including the elderly and generational gaps, and how contemporary understanding of history (its own faults notwithstanding) have shifted in a more accurate telling of events between the first people and the pioneers.

The plot of The Indian Shirt Story takes place over the course of one summer. Its protagonist, Bess, is a docent at a historical house museum who constantly wrangles for the attention of over-stimulated kids on class field trips. Her job also entails dealing with Lucille, the ninety-year-old last living member of the Starkett House, whose propensity for telling racist stories to tour-goers has landed the historical society in trouble with local Tribes and concerned parents. The novel’s sub plot features a country music star stirring up all manner of things when he comes to town to shoot a music video at the historical house. The characters are done well; Lockman shines in her ability to portray them without caricature.

The basis of the story isn’t far from reality—Lockman once worked for the Bigelow House Museum on Glass Avenue. In an interview conducted by blogger Linda Benson, Lockman said that one of the biggest challenges in interpreting a pioneer-era home is to balance the Oregon Trail emigrant story against the perspective of American Indian people.

“By modern standards it was appalling in its portrayal of Indian people,” Lockman explained. “Yet it was an important story to the older generation of the family and likely had its roots in something that actually happened. That got me thinking about what might really have taken place between the white family and tribal visitors—and what would the Indian version of that same encounter have been?”

Lockman has been a writer since her teens, when an article she wrote was picked up by the Seattle Times. Since then her articles have appeared in many national history publications. She has also written travel articles, as well as two historical nonfiction books: Tumwater (Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series) and Building a Capital City.  This is her first novel.

It’s a Northwest story, indeed, with beautiful, simple prose and lively characters and Washington specific flora and fauna. If you ever wondered what it would be like to read a book about a dramatized version of Olympia, this is it.

The Indian Shirt Story ($5.99; 375 pages) is available now from Amazon and Musa Publishing. ◙

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