Square Zair Pair (2015), written by Jase Peeples and illustrated by Christine Knopp, is a quirky picture book reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. The story takes place in Hanamandoo, a fantasy world inhabited by Zairs. Zairs hatch from eggs that grow from vines. Some are tall and square; others are short and round. Round and square Zairs always form a pair by attaching tails.
One day two square Zairs pair. The community is outraged and demands they leave the group, using rhetoric like that bandied around by the real world Right.
The paired square Zairs leave town and build a hut. When they run out of easily attainable berries, they work together and discover they can climb trees to reach the better tasting berries at the top.
A snow storm comes and they can stay safe and eat, but their old community is suffering. They intervene by reaching berries at the top of trees for their former friends. The moralistic Zairs, who thought they were better than the paired square Zairs, begin to feel ashamed. Instead of demanding conformity, they start to appreciate and even celebrate difference. All the Zair pairs develop new skills and new joys, inspired by the kindness and originality of the paired square Zairs.
This is a silly book with a serious theme. I love that Peeples lets his paired square Zairs queer the community. They inspire the other Zairs to embrace difference, not demand allegiance to normativity. Because of the whimsical prose and illustrations, readers as young as three can appreciate the story, while older readers can gain a lot from a conversation about representation, difference, belonging, and community ethics. The book does quite a bit of work without making it feel like work!
This review is part of my “Snapshots of LGBTQ Kid Lit” project. I’m working on a book, The New Queer Children’s Literature: Exploring the Principles and Politics of LGBTQ* Children’s Picture Books, which is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. Part of my research is identifying and interpreting English-language children’s picture books with LGBTQ* content published in the US and Canada between 1979 and 2019. Follow my blog to follow my journey!