We’ve had Hungry Caterpillars much their way through a mountain of food. The Spider and the Fly have been doing their thing for well over a century and the multi-limbed, antennae twitching cast of James and the Giant Peach still keep readers rapt as they bob across the ocean. To this collection of mini-beasts, a brilliant local headmaster, Troy Jenkinson would like to introduce you to a pair of lesbian snails.
“It is still the case that ‘gay’ is used in the playground as an insult” Troy explains “and while progress has been made, anti-LGBTQ attitudes are still rife. Kids aren’t born with that, they learn it”.
It became very much an issue when he heard of a child at his school was bullied for having two mums. “It was seen as abnormal, when it shouldn’t. Books like Tango Makes Three (where two gay male penguins in a zoo raise a chick) introduce children to different ways families can be structured, in a way that they can easily relate to. I looked for a similar book that told the tale of lesbian relationships, but there was nothing out there. It seemed that there was a therefore a need to write one. Most children love animals. So I came up with the idea of lesbian snails, and began writing”
Snails might not seem the most relatable creatures: the shell-dwelling gastropods are resolutely not fluffy or as eminently pettable as the usual kittens, puppies and guinea pigs that a child will have at home. Yet there is a strong logic at work here.
First: snails lay eggs: no need to have to explain the more physical aspects of relationships and birth! Secondly: the school had adopted a giant African land snail as a classroom pet, which the children had grown fond of. Felicity and Jane, the titular mummys of the book, and their children, were thus hatched . Ben Blacknell, a fantastic illustrator, was bought in to bring the snails to colourful life.
Ambitions for the completed book were initially confined to Troy’s school, but after witnessing the positive reaction to its release– and his colleagues insistence it should find a wider audience – Troy decided to look into publication. Thus began the slog of getting the book out, and after studying the various paths decided to retain creative control and publish it himself. The legendary London bookshop Gays the Word took copies, as did our own local Five Leaves, but Troy has plans to get it further afield, and into mainstream bookshops.
“The reaction has been terrific: parents and carers telling me how it has opened up their eyes to such relationships, and how the kids really get into the story. I encourage the kids to lead the conversation on the book, and it is wonderful to hear how they see it. We discussed it at school in assembly, and a year six student explained “Love is love, whoever it is between”. He summed up the story so simply and clearly, in a way that sometimes only children can. That’s why I do this”.
While the Best Mummy Snails in the World finds its way in the world, several other projects are in the pipeline, again exploring issues of diversity. Troy is effusive about one in particular “We have an axolotl as a classroom pet” he says, eyes lighting up “Which helps explain the similarities between those who may have an otherwise different external experience. I’ve just seen the illustrations for it, and I’m really excited”.