Gayest Thing: Tops & Bottoms

A children’s book.

Book cover from Amazon.com

As 2015 comes to a close, the Outward crew is in a reflective mood. In the spirit of honoring the past while boldly sashaying into the future, we will each offer a hymn of praise to the gayest thing we encountered this year. “Gayest,” in this case, is defined broadly and in the best possible sense—fabulous, delightful, glad-making, delicious, just too much, or otherwise pleasing. Join us by sharing the gayest thing you met this year in the comments or on social media.

Over the summer, my partner and I took a little weekend jaunt to the New York Botanical Garden. After a few hours of surveying the grounds (including a particularly impressive recreation of Frida Kahlo’s gardens), we stopped off at a vegetable patch; a covered area toward the rear of the plot served as a cooking demo classroom for kids. While we listened to a nice young woman from Whole Foods expound on the joys of sautéing with olive oil, I glanced over at a shelf featuring a rag-tag assortment of children’s books. And I nearly stopped breathing. There, amid the familiar Dr. Seuss covers, was a title completely unexpected and yet ideal for someone of my interests.

Tops & Bottoms, penned and illustrated by Janet Stevens, is somehow a Caldecott Honor Book from 1995 that parents read to their kids with a straight face. It tells the slightly creepy, Ayn Rand-ish story of a cunning farmer hare who takes advantage of a land-owning bear’s lethargy by conning him into accepting the undesirable parts of vegetables (tops for carrots, bottoms for broccoli). The hare ends up with a prosperous farm stand while the bear learns a valuable lesson about capitalism, or something. The book is also fun because it opens vertically and is dedicated to a person who “knows what kids like.”

I don’t know about kids, but I know that I really like the cover for this book, which features an ascot-festooned Mr. Bear looking rather exhausted in his porch chair, his rear end pointed toward the heavens. Mr. Hare, on the other hand, is wide-awake, sporting a festive gardening shirt and gripping a firm, girthy ear of corn. He looks directly at the reader, his reddish eye exuding a hunger for the harvest that his hard work has surely earned.

An avid cook myself, I appreciate Tops & Bottoms’ commitment to fresh produce and the teamwork it takes to come up with a home-grown bounty. I do, however, wish that Stevens had recognized that vegetables need not be so crudely divided—tops or bottoms may be preferred on a given evening, but there’s versatility in all the parts.

Other Gayest Things: 
Kim Davis, the Diva Zealot
Ex Machina