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Ilara Stefaniuk-Gaudet – Westwood’s Director of Religious Education Writes Children’s Book

Ilara Stefaniuk-Gaudet’s book The Secret Wish of Dragon H is a book telling the story of Horus, a dragon who yearns for the wings he’s told only female dragons are allowed to have. Below, the author reflects on the inspiration for the story and how it can be useful as an introduction to issues of gender identity.

I have been a member of Westwood Unitarian Congregation in Edmonton, Alberta, for many years now. I’ve had the great privilege and honour for nearly five of those years of holding the role of Director of our Religious Education Program. In February of 2016, the theme was “Building Bridges of Transformation”. We’d been building all kinds of bridges since September (literal and metaphorical!), and it was becoming challenging to find children’s books on this theme. A trans woman was delivering the upcoming sermon, and I wanted to present a clear, related message to our children and the congregation that morning.

I wanted the message to be engaging and educational, and I wanted characters who were fantastic and relatable. After futile searching for “the perfect story”, I finally decided that I would just have to write my own! I’ve always loved writing, and it was lots of fun! It was a simple, hand-written narrative with three or four illustrations so the children would be able to see Dragon H before and after her gender reassignment surgery.

Sunday morning came, and somewhat to my surprise, the story was a big hit with the children and adults alike, including our guest speaker. I was approached by numerous members of our community in the following weeks and encouraged to pursue publication of the story. I was initially very hesitant; I knew that if I was going to publish I would want to create full colour illustrations, which would be a huge time commitment. I put the idea on the back burner, but it kept surfacing as an issue in need of representation. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was a crucial project, so I decided to dedicate my summer entirely to its completion.

In my role as Director of Religious Education and in life, I’ve worked hard to pour my heart into both my UU community and all my community circles. This publication is one more way of achieving this. Growing up queer has placed issues of gender and sexual orientation very close to my heart, so when the opportunity to help facilitate this conversation with younger children arose, I was eager to take it.

As I spoke with people in a wide variety of community circles, it became clear that this book could be used in both homes and community programs to open up dialogue about gender with children. The primary way I hope to achieve this is with the discussion guide found after the story in this book. “Conversations with Dragon H” is a series of questions aimed at helping children identify with the various feelings that Dragon H experiences throughout the story, both positive and challenging. I encourage you to be creative and have fun in your use of this story and the Discussion Guide as a learning tool! It is intended to be more of a springboard into facilitating conversations and activities rather than a simple list of questions.

This book is a labour of love. I hope it will be as much of an adventure for you to read as it was for me to create!

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