Sara Kyle recently sat down to talk with Daniel Errico, a best selling children’s book author who recently released “The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived.” A queer twist on the classic fairytale, the story focuses on a pumpkin farmer named Cedric as he becomes a knight, slays a dragon, and lives happily ever after with the prince of his dreams. Earlier this month, Hulu premiered the story as an 8-minute short film, which you can watch here.
How long have you been writing children’s books? How many have you released?
Daniel: I started writing about 8 years ago. I have two hardcover books published and many more ebooks, so I’ve been writing for a little while now. When I first started it was for freechildrensstories.com, which is a site I founded way back when, and at the time I was trying to write and release a story a week. But since then it’s toned down a little bit.
Wow, that’s awesome! Can you tell us more about “The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived” specifically, and how it’s different from other children’s books on the market?
Daniel: Sure! The idea behind the story was to take the traditional fairytale format and change nothing except for the main character’s idea of what his happy ending should be. So it’s meant to play off of all the fairytales that I grew up with, which seemed to always focus on the happy ending of romance and marriage between a prince and a princess or a hero and princess. It was important for me to try to make it as similar as possible in the other ways to prove that it doesn’t change anything really about the story.
Was there any particular spark of inspiration or any young children in your life that inspired you to write this story?
Daniel: You know, no young children, but there is a couple here in New Jersey that I became close friends with who were clearly in love and together for years, but they couldn’t get married in this state. Since the book came out, timeline wise, now they have gotten married and they have found their happy ending either way. They were the main impetus because I thought about the injustice of it, on a more personal level, knowing two people personally who were being denied a right.
What kind of responses have you seen to the work—from parents, from adults, from children?
Daniel: There has been a lot of positivity, which I try to stress as much as possible. I think it’s always important to make sure that children know that there is a lot of support behind an idea like this. There have been some rough criticisms, especially online, so although it has been overwhelmingly positive, there have been some comments that were really disheartening. I’ve been called “disgusting” and accused of trying to brainwash children. The story itself has been called gay propaganda. It is important to note the negative as well as the positive.
The most common thing I get from parents is that, although they might support gay marriage and gay rights, they still wouldn’t show it to their children. Which, for me, is the biggest problem. For some reason, as a society, we have decided that this is inherently age inappropriate. I’ve had people say, “You know, you can’t show sexual stories to children,” and the frustrating part for me as an author is that there is nothing sexual about it. It’s a story about love and they hold hands.
Shying away from these topics sends an inherent message to children that there is something wrong about them.
What’s the most powerful feedback you’ve gotten?
Daniel: The best positive feedback I’ve gotten has been from members of the LGBTQ community who have told me that they wished they had a story like this growing up, because they believe it could have helped them from being confused and from feeling the way they did about themselves, which is terribly unfair and unfortunate.
That’s a big hope of mine—whether it’s this story or the next ten that are coming—that there is enough of them and that they become so ubiquitous that it cuts into the disproportionate ratio of stories and their representations of love. The idea I want more than anything is for a kid to grow up and know that no matter what they’re welcome, they’re accepted, that we love them, and that they are great the way they are.
Have you ever had any conversations with schools or pre-schools about introducing some of these into their libraries?
Daniel: That is starting to happen now. U.S. schools have a lot more concerns over the subject. Iceland has embraced it and they’re going to have it in their schools coming this year, which I am really happy about. They reached out to me and it was great to hear that somebody wants to put this in a school. But, nothing yet in the U.S. It’s been an uphill battle with children’s media and schools.
What is your ultimate hope for your work?
Daniel: The ultimate goal I think would be to have a hero that kids relate to, that the main point of that hero isn’t just their sexuality, but just that they’re someone that kids can relate to and can grow up to realize, “Oh that’s someone I like, someone that’s my friend,” and that he’s married to a man or she’s married to a girl, or any combo.
Where can parents find your work?
Daniel: I always try to make my stories available as much as possible for free online through freechildrensstories.com. So over the years, it varies with publishers. Even the best sellers, I’ve been fortunate enough to make them available there as well. Otherwise you can look on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
A former mechanical engineer, Daniel Errico left his career at an investment bank to create freechildrenstories.com. In the years since, he has produced multiple number one best-selling children’s ebooks with Barnes & Noble and has books in stores nationwide through Sky Pony Press. His works have been made into collections, apps, and even plays. Throughout all his success, his stories have been available online to encourage literacy and free media for kids. You can follow Daniel on Twitter @pajamabooks