Actor and children’s author Greg McGoon had hit the second book slump. His first book, Out of the Box, chronicled a boy who uses his imagination to make friends. But now he found himself straining for a novel approach to self worth and transformation.
“I wanted to explore those themes in fairy tales recognizing LGBT characters, since those stories are lacking,” says McGoon. “After months of struggling, I stopped what I was doing, went back to the foundation of ‘Once upon a time…’, and realized that the ultimate form of transformation was being transgender.
“As soon as I tapped into it, it just flowed,” he adds.
The result, falling together in a mere four months and in time for National Transgender Awareness Week November 14—20, is The Royal Heart (Avid Readers Group), the first traditionally styled fairy tale starring a transgender teen.
“There are children’s books that discuss transgender youth, but they’re more modern in tone,” he adds. “The LGBT community doesn’t have a traditional transgender fairy tale. Gay themes have recently started to appear in children’s books with a fairy tale vibe, but they’re few and far between. I want to add to that voice, but in a classic feel, using words like ‘shall’ and ‘thy.’”
Illustrated by J. Orr, an artist who has freelanced for Disney and Universal, the book tells the story of a young prince who feels he’s living a lie and can’t bring himself to tell his parents, the king and queen, that he’s not fit to eventually rule the kingdom. After running away, a magical encounter with his grandmother’s spirit helps him transition to a princess. She’s ultimately accepted by her parents—her worth as their child and potential as ruler remaining untarnished.
“I liked the idea of a member of an older generation welcoming this new idea first,” says McGoon. The book also includes an original lullaby written by McGoon and the illustrator’s husband, Arthur Orr.
“This book is not just for transgender children. It has universal themes of acceptance, love, and leadership that can be embraced by all children,” says McGoon. “It’s incredibly valuable for children to be aware of these themes.”
McGoon has always embraced inclusion, performing with National Drama Company of Ghana during his travels there, and, back in New York, with Broadway Bares, a charity show raising money for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS.
He’s been able to share The Royal Heart with Neil Patrick Harris and his family, as well as Laverne Cox. McGoon also said that on November 19, in honor of the book, the LGBT Club at San Bernardino High School in California is planning a King and Queens Day where students can come as the royal they connect with most. He’s next hoping to expand The Royal Heart brand into a collection of children’s stories recognizing more LGBT characters.
“One transgender woman told me, ‘I wish I’d had this as a child. I would have loved to have been able to imagine myself spinning around, and have [this transformation] happen, like this character,’” says McGoon. “It meant a lot that someone who lived that life embraced it.”