From Tony Award–winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, a funny and touching story of a duckling who embraces his identity.
Elmer is not like the other boy ducklings. While they like to build forts, he loves to bake cakes. While they like to play baseball, he wants to put on the halftime show. Elmer is a great big sissy. But when his father is wounded by a hunter’s shot, Elmer proves that the biggest sissy can also be the greatest hero.
Acclaimed actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein has crafted a heartwarming story, based on his award-winning HBO animated special, about learning to embrace the special qualities we all possess. Henry Cole’s gently humorous illustrations give it a new vitality. This is a book to share with all children, to help them understand that each one of them is unique and valuable.
About the Author
Henry Cole has written and illustrated more than fifty books for children, including Big Bug, And Tango Makes Three, Oink?, and Little Bo in France. A former elementary school teacher, he now writes and paints full time.
Harvey Fierstein is a four-time Tony Award-winning writer, actor, and gay-rights activist. In 1983, he received two Tonys for writing and starring in Torch Song Trilogy, received a third Tony the following year for writing La Cage aux Folle, and another in 2003 for Best Actor in Hairspray. Film audiences know him best for his scene-stealing antics in Mrs. Doubtfire and Independence Day, and he lent his trademark gravelly voice to Disney’s Mulan as Mulan’s soldier friend. He has made numerous TV appearances, including an Emmy-nominated appearance on Cheers and on a classic episode of The Simpsons as Homer’s assistant, Karl. Children know him as the Easter Bunny from the Emmy-winning Elmo Saves Christmas. Harvey also wrote the book for the play Kinky Boots, which won the 2013 Tony for Best Musical.
A Conversation with Harvey Fierstein
Q: You usually write for an adult audience. What was it like to write your first book for children?
A: I have never been accused of being an adult. In fact, while others struggle to get in touch with their inner children, my challenge is to not shoot spitballs or run with sharp objects. Writing for a child didn't seem to be a struggle. I imagined telling the story to one of my nephews and put it down on paper that way. The hardest part was telling the story with the limited number of words inherent to a picture book. I had to trust the illustrator to convey much of the emotional life and detail. I am so very grateful to have Henry Cole as my collaborator. He was more than up to the task. The marriage of story and picture in The Sissy Duckling is proof of the adage, "The whole is more than the sum of its parts."
Q: Why did you use "The Ugly Duckling" as a model for your story?
A: What kid doesn't see himself as the geek among the cool? That's why "The Ugly Duckling" has always been meaningful to me. But in the original story the duckling must become a swan to finally be accepted. In my story it is not the duckling who needs to change, but everyone else. Elmer is smart and funny and inventive and brave. The world is a better place for having him a part. Ducks like Drake, the manly bully in my story, do not make the world a better place. They do not invent or create or redefine their environments. They simply plod along doing what every other duck does. I wanted to send the message: not only are sissies to be accepted, they should be revered and treasured. Without sissies the world would be a darker place.
Q: Are any of Elmer's experiences based on ones you had growing up?
A: I played with dolls when I was little. I played with the girls in the neighborhood. I had no interest in baseball or hockey, but would rather put on puppet shows and listen to show-tunes. Are any of Elmer's experiences based on my own life? YEAH! And I have had the great privilege of knowing a lot of other sissies in my time. Sharing this tale with them has been unbelievably rewarding. Holding a book in your hands that reflects your own truth is a validating experience. To have a book that says, "You are not alone. I know what you are feeling and I've felt it too," can be a lifesaver. I cannot imagine what a relief it would have been had I read this book as a child. I grew up thinking that I was the only one who felt the things I did. A book like this would have meant freedom for my spirit. I only hope that this book can reach children who need the same hug of acceptance.
Q: If we could see Elmer 20 years from now, what would he be doing?
A: Elmer, by the age of six, has already proved that ducks need not fly south to survive the harsh winter. I would think that by the age of 26 he would have cured cancer, invented a device that would aid in flying, opened a nice spa called "Birds of a Feather," and written a musical.
Q: Have you ever been called a sissy?
A: Yes. I have been called a sissy and a faggot and a queer and a Mary and a "momza" and a "faygella" and a "maricon" and a pouf and every other name that humankind has come up with to describe a man who acts outside the narrow masculine parameters. Some of those names have helped me know who I am. Some have hurt me and made me ashamed. All of them, in their way, are true. But mostly what being called those names has done is to motivate me to change the world around me; to make this a world where others like me need not be ashamed. Those words gave me the gift of outrage, and with it I strive to redefine the world.
Q: Why did you dedicate this book to the children of New York City's Gramercy House?
A: The kids who live at Gramercy House are a touchstone to my past, a beacon for the work that still needs to be done, and an inspiration to keep struggling against bigotry and hatred. Here is a group home created to shelter children who have been trashed by their families. Why have these smart, wonderful, fun, and outrageous children been tossed to the streets? Because they are homosexual. No other reason. What kind of a mother can do such a thing? A mother within whom the hatred for gays has so been instilled that it is stronger than the love she feels for her own flesh and blood. Bigotry is amazingly powerful. These innocent children are the clearest examples. But, while we fight this unjustified hatred and rid our society of its venom, someone needs to care for these children. That's where Gramercy House and other residences like it step in.
Q: Do you recommend any organizations that people can get involved in to promote tolerance?
A: All societies are slow in eradicating prejudice. It is often said that the longest journey is from the heart to the head. Laws, however, can be devised to guide behavior and protect minorities until the day when bigotry is no longer acceptable. I urge everyone to become involved in a forward-thinking political organization. Whether you can work as a volunteer or simply support the work with a donation, organizations are only as powerful as the number of members they can muster. The Human Rights Campaign has offices in many states and headquarters in DC. PFLAG is an organization of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. They do wonderful advocacy work. The organization that created Gramercy House is called Green Chimneys and their work with children is exemplary. It truly takes very little effort to change the world. Think about it. Just buying a copy of a book like The Sissy Duckling and donating it to a school library in your neighborhood can make an immeasurable difference. Try changing the world. You'll like it.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: At this very moment I am acting in a movie called The Duplex from Miramax. It stars Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller and is directed by Danny DeVito. I am beginning rehearsals for a Broadway-bound musical called Hairspray based on the cult classic film by John Waters. My latest film to hit theaters is Death to Smoochy. I am also involved in creating several other projects for stage and TV.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A terribly fun book about individuality. It¿s about a dad so worried about what other people think and say about how he raises his boy that, he tries to persuade his son Elmer to do ¿masculine¿ things like play baseball instead of bake or paint. But not every boy likes to play baseball (nor every girl bake) and though an outcast Elmer stays true to himself and amazes everyone with his unique abilities and insights. It¿s a predictable but beautiful tale, written by an author experienced in being unique and being true to that uniqueness (brilliant actor, gay-rights-activist Harvey Fierstein). I find any book written form experience is a book worth reading, a book which speaks form the heart and ¿The Sissy Duckling¿ is no exception. I would even go so far as to say that this book, like many other children¿s books¿The Little Prince by St.Antoine and The Butterfly by Jay Singh¿is written for adults. Absolutely. It has a lot to say to people from all walks of life. A great book to read to your kids, to discuss in class, or give to someone terribly original who might need a little pick-me-up! Very pleased with this book!
Poor Elmer the Duckling is just a regular guy trying to be who he is. Much like many ducks out there. This warming and much needed children's tale is a triumph in my opinion. Kids of all ages will enjoy this tale of a duck that is just not 'normal,' but is just as great as can be anyway, with a twist of family values to boot. A toast to author Harvey Fierstein!