Tomie DePaola’s Oliver Button Is a Sissy stands up for odd kids everywhere.

Sissy Hit 

Tomie DePaola’s Oliver Button Is a Sissy stands up for odd kids everywhere.

Cocoa Peru, a much-loved drag queen, once told massive crowds at New York City's Wigstock Festival (a celebration of cross-dressing) about her childhood flair for girly hats. As a little boy, Cocoa had owned a hat with a pom-pom on top. The kids at school would take it and toss it back and forth in a vicious game of keep-away. One cold day, when his mother told him to put on his hat, he refused. He told her what was happening, and when he responded to each of her suggestions (tell them to stop, tell the teacher, tell the principal) with a solemn "I already have," she put her hands on her hips and led her son to the sewing room, where she proceeded to stick pushpins through the pom-pom.

While this story is inspiring, "stick them with pins" may not be the best parental advice. A more viable role model for children in similar circumstances might be Oliver Button, the main character in Tomie DePaola's children's book Oliver Button Is a Sissy, to be performed as a musical by the Heartland Men's Chorus this weekend with live narration by the author.

Oliver likes things that boys aren't supposed to like, which makes him the victim of endless taunting. When he takes up dance lessons -- "especially for the exercise," says his broad-shouldered father -- he practices constantly despite his tormentors' name-calling. His peers finally praise him when he gives a stellar performance at a talent show.

DePaola calls the story "autobiographical fiction." He liked to dance when he was a boy, and, he says, "I did, indeed, get called a sissy. But I marched to the sound of my own drummer. I was very proud of my shiny black tap shoes."

Oliver Button Is a Sissy counters gender stereotypes, but it's also a book about self-esteem and following one's own vision. DePaola has been asked if Oliver Button is gay. "Oliver Button is four," he says, "so I don't really think sexuality's an issue. It's about a boy who wants to do something very badly."

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