I Promise: This children's book shows that queer comes in all colours, shapes and sizes

The new collaboration between Catherine Hernandez and Syrus Marcus Ware is a reflection of the communities they inhabit.

The new collaboration between Catherine Hernandez and Syrus Marcus Ware is a reflection of their communities

Catherine Hernandez. (Photo by Dahlia Katz)

After winning critical and commercial success with her debut novel Scarborough, playwright and author Catherine Hernandez is highlighting queer families and the love between parents and their children with a new kids' book. Teaming up with illustrator and activist Syrus Marcus Ware, the pair have created I Promise, which uses vibrant pictures and charming vignettes to showcase how families come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes.

For Hernandez, I Promise is a reflection of the communities she inhabits.

"It's a sweet, simple, book aimed at teaching young children what queer families look like," Hernandez tells CBC Arts. "Writing the book was important because explaining how queer families manifests is vastly different than in a cis/het community. I wanted to talk about those families in all their magic, mess and glory. The book tells children that they came about because their parents wanted to love them. It's the message I wanted to get across."

I Promise is Hernandez's second children's book, following 2015's M Is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book. Both books work to normalize queerness among families, offering readers a celebration of a community which has been historically marginalized. The simple act of representation can feel huge for LGBTQ2 families who rarely see themselves depicted in media.

"My hope for the book is that people from the LGBTQ2 spectrum can feel seen, heard and celebrated for what their families look like," Hernandez says. "I also hope that the book lets people from outside the community see that we love our children just like they love theirs. We also have trouble getting kids to brush their teeth. We also look after them when they're sick. And just like everyone, we want to raise our kids to be the best they can be."

(Arsenal Pulp Press)

To flesh out the pages of I Promise, the author utilized a technique she learned while previously running a daycare: she would read the book in front of young children, taking note of when they started to seem listless or bored. By workshopping the text in front of an audience, she got immediate feedback from an unbiased source.

"When I'm writing things for children, it feels a lot like theatre," she says. "You put things in front of the crowd and they instantly let you know if your words are working or not. Sometimes if a kid didn't like what I wrote, they would literally stand up and walk away. I never had to ask for comments — their body language told the truth. The process of getting feedback was really important to making sure I was on the right track."

I really wish I had something like this growing up. As parents in the queer community, we have the opportunity to right wrongs that have been done to us in the past.- Catherine Hernandez

I Promise offers readers a glimpse at how queer families begin with devoted love for a child. The book is a quiet celebration of the lived realities of LGBTQ2 parents and their kids, carefully crafted with heart and attention. Hernandez hopes the book will appeal to both adults and their offspring, and give families a story she wished she'd heard when she was younger.

Syrus Marcus Ware (left) and Catherine Hernandez. (Photo by Dahlia Ktatz)

"I really wish I had something like this growing up," she says. "As parents in the queer community, we have the opportunity to right wrongs that have been done to us in the past. We can let our kids know that their bodies are beautiful the way they are, that they can make the choices they want to make and that there are so many possibilities."

"I wish I had known there were so many different ways to bring children into this world and raise them. Because that's really what parenting is: looking at the different ways we get through things together and making sure that a child knows they're loved."

More information on I Promise can be found here.


Graham Isador is a writer and theatre creator based out of Toronto. He trained as a part of the playwright unit at Soulpepper Theatre. Isador's work has appeared at VICE, The Risk Podcast, and the punk rock satire site The Hard Times, among other places.