C. Alexander London is a children’s book author who recently wrote an extremely brave article on Buzzfeed titled, “Why I Came Out as a Gay Children’s Book Author,” which I immediately loved after reading it. It kept me on tenterhooks the entire time. It’s a narrative we often don’t hear, but should.
As a former high school teacher myself, I was often petrified of having my students find out I was also a published poet and essayist who happened to identify as queer (although it was often easy to hide considering I married a nice Jewish mensch). Because of my background, I read London’s essay completely understanding his anxiety about coming out–but the complete need to as well.
London is the author of several children’s books, including “The Wild Ones,” the “Dog Tags” series, and the “Tides of War” series. His young adult debut, “Proxy,” was an American Library Association Top 10 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers.
I was extremely lucky to interview London on how he started writing children’s books, what his favorite Jewish holiday is, and how he wants to be Dr. Who:
How did you decide to start writing children’s books? Was it something you always wanted to do?
It was not a straight line. When I was very little, I liked cookies a lot, but I also liked Westerns, so I had a notion that I’d grow up to be a “cowboy baker.” Sadly, that’s not a thing, and I’m sort of afraid of horses. Otherwise, I wanted to be a writer since 5th grade, when the children’s author Brian Jacques, who wrote the popular “Redwall” series, responded to my fan letter and encouraged me to keep using my imagination.
I began my writing career as a journalist, producing two books of nonfiction for adults. I always imagined I’d become some daring but geeky global correspondent, part Sebastian Junger, part Ira Glass. It didn’t work out that way.
As I worked on what would become my first book, “One Day The Soldiers Came,” I found my way back to the power of children’s books to transform lives and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to write for children, to celebrate their capacities and inspire their imaginations, just like the Redwall author had done for me all those years ago.
In your Buzzfeed article, you talk about being the first “out” for many kids. Do you often feel more nervous about the kids’ reactions, or their parents’?
Definitely the parents’. Children are trying to make sense of the world in all its variety. They are curious and adaptable. Their entire lives are a process of receiving new information and experiences, and they are very good at integrating newness into their worldview. Adults, on the other hand, can be very set in their ways and very unforgiving of difference. Luckily, their children are wonderful educators and my hope is that they’ll teach their parents a thing or two about all our shared humanity.
If you could be anyone or anything, just for one day, what would you be?
Dr. Who from “Dr. Who,” because with a time machine, one day can be as long as you decide to make it, and you get to save the universe and wear great scarves while you do it.
What was your favorite children’s book or young adult novel growing up?
As a child, “Redwall” was the book that got me hooked on reading. The adventures of the tiny mice of Redwall Abbey made my world feel huge. As a teen, the sci-fi novel “Ender’s Game” was just the book I needed at the time. It was exciting, daring, and filled with big ideas about war, friendship, society, and history. I also thought it was the first book I’d read with characters like me. I really thought there was a same-sex romance in the book.
Of course, the author’s intent couldn’t have been further from writing a queer love story, but it didn’t matter. Books belong to their readers and readers make a book into what they need it to be. Good books are so much smarter than their authors, after all.
If you were a Jewish holiday, which one would you be?
Tu Bishvat for a few reasons. For one, I like eating new fruit, which is a thing one does. Since it is the New Year for trees and trees have rings, they don’t have to wear those obnoxious glasses in the shape of years. I admire their restraint. The reason we even notice the New Year for trees, aside from the fact that it’s the only way we can understand why no trees will show up to work the next day, is that it we’re supposed to wait a few years to eat a tree’s fruit, and we’ve got to measure the time somehow. It’s a holiday about delayed gratification. It’s the famous “Marshmallow Test,” a measure of self-control and maturity, but for trees and fruit and the Jewish people.
What’s the best thing about yourself? What’s the worst?
In the age of humble-brags and internet trolls, I will let both of those be decided by other people.
To make it out the other side of childhood taller and smarter. I pulled it off, but through no fault of my own. I had decent genes and good teachers.
What’s your weirdest family tradition?
Well, we’re Jews who celebrate Christmas (that’s not the weird part), but we wrap everything. Tissue packets. AAA membership cards. Gifts for the pets. And then, instead of saying who the gifts are from, the little cards have clues on them. The more esoteric, the better. I love this tradition. The stuff doesn’t matter. The tradition is about the thought and the time together. It’s about words, and mystery, and fetishizing colorful wrapping paper.
What’s your favorite children’s movie?
What personal object could you not live without? (Besides your phone!)
I’d like to think there is no object I couldn’t live without, but there’d be some I’d hate to lose. My wedding ring is, in itself, just a gold band, but every time I see it on my finger or tap it nervously on the table, I smile. Not just for the symbolic value and reminder of my vow to my husband, who is, no offense to anyone else, currently my favorite person on earth, but because it’s also a reminder that I’m living a future my younger self could never have imagined.