Miss Richfield 1981 loves rainbows.
“Look at all the different colors, and they’re all together!” the drag performer told a crowd at Augsburg Park Library – in Richfield, of course.
The Tuesday evening gathering of a few dozen kids and adults was one of several special Stories Together with Drag Performers in October. Local drag performers joined library staff to read books and sing songs, with an intentional emphasis on self-expression and inclusion – and a little extra flair.
The events were part of Hennepin County Library’s observance of Pride History Month this fall. At Minneapolis Central Library, a LGBTQIA+ History Month film series brought patrons together for films like “Not in My Lifetime,” with local filmmaker Pam Colby, and “Free CeCe,” about the incarceration of CeCe McDonald and violence experienced by trans women of color.
Many of the Stories Together performers met with library staff in advance for group storytime training, book selection coaching and read-aloud tips, as well as to discuss goals for the events, said library specialist Teresa Barnhill.
On a Friday morning at Walker Library in Uptown, more than 50 kids and caregivers eagerly awaited the grand entrance of performer Polly Cotton, dressed as Polly the Jellyfish, who glided across the library, yellow crepe paper “tentacles” trailing from a hot pink parasol.
Youth services librarian Lesley Chaudhry led the group in an opening song before Polly’s first read-aloud, “Not Quite Narwhal,” about a creature named Kelp who was just a little different from his underwater friends.
“We’re here today to celebrate our community together,” Chaudhry told the group. Later, while reading a Todd Parr title, she invited the audience to join in the title refrain. “Let’s all say it together: ‘Be who you are!’”
In addition to a backdrop of multicolored streamers, Miss Richfield wore rainbow platform sneakers and a rainbow-and-clouds mini dress that swayed as she sashayed into the circle.
This was full-participation storytime. Any page could inspire a side story, such as the time Miss Richfield’s cat caught a mouse, and her encounter with a surprised skunk. Kids chimed in too, about cats and dogs, siblings and birthdays.
After a reading of “10,000 Dresses,” about a boy who dreams of dresses, Miss Richfield exclaimed, “I dream of dresses, too!”
She closed the storytime with a performance of her favorite song, “Over the Rainbow,” which she sang in a rich baritone, accompanied by her own musical saw.
“Isn’t that great?” she exclaimed. “Let’s clap for being different!”
Afterward, she gathered the kids for a group picture and posed for individual selfies with the families – and a few unaccompanied adults – who came to see her.
Miss Richfield’s alter ego, Russ King, celebrated a reunion with three of his Richfield High School classmates after the storytime.
They reminisced about the library, which opened when they were kids. “It’s great for kids and parents to get into libraries,” King said. “It’s a special place.”
It was important to him to say yes to this gig.
“Anything I can do for Richfield,” he said. “I always feel indebted to Richfield.”