Bilingual children’s book, Pepito Has a Doll, is an inspiration
Writing his first children’s book, filmmaker Jesús Canchola Sánchez reminds children that there are no rules to gender or queerness, especially as children. His bilingual children’s book, Pepito Has a Doll, illustrated by Armando Minjárez Monárrez, tells the tale of a young boy, Pepito, and his doll Lola. Pepito left without the friendship of schoolmates, holds Lola, his only secret friend, close to his heart until he meets Miguel.
For the writer, inspiration came from other children’s stories breaking gender stereotypes. Knowing his classmates will make fun of him, Pepito keeps Lola a secret in the story. If any readers out there are queer or have children that break the gender stereotypes thrust upon them, this desire to live in secret aims for the heart. “I think when someone loves you unconditionally, without judgment, then you are fully able to accept yourself,” said Sánchez in a telephone interview.
In reading Pepito Has a Doll, it is easy to feel emotional. Pepito shows us what it is like to feel different from societal gender norms at such an important, impressionable age.
It is essential for children to feel the comfort of love, especially from a parent figure, said the filmmaker known for his award-winning film, Cuban Colors. In the case of Pepito, that love sprouts from both his Abuela, or grandmother, and Miguel. Miguel arrives as a new student also looking for friendship. He finds great affection with Pepito.
When Pepito is bullied for playing with Lola, another layer of unconditional love sprouts. Miguel advocates for Pepito. He shows him how he deserves to be treated by others, another priceless message for children—especially as two young boys.
Playing with dolls himself, Sánchez speaks with pure love for his own Abuela. Sánchez’s Abuela gave him unconditional support in navigating his gender and play as a child even when other family members did not. The book’s illustrator, Mexican interdisciplinary artist, designer, and community organizer, Monárrez, was a boy who also played with dolls.
The two artists met while doing work for undocumented immigrants in Kansas and decided to work together on Pepito Has a Doll. It was Monárrez’s first time illustrating a children’s book.
For the writer, inspiration comes from other children’s stories breaking gender stereotypes, like the 1972 children’s story William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. Ultimately, Sánchez’s life is his inspiration, “I wrote Pepito Has a Doll/Pepito Tiene Una Muñeca in honor of my seven-year-old self,” said the writer. “I was a little boy who learned how to be fearless in order to become the man I am today.”
Pepito Has a Doll is available at pepitohasadoll.com.
Author Jesús Canchola Sánchez is known for his feature-length directorial debut, Bittersweet Waters, and his film, Cuban Colors. Both were selected for the 6th Annual Puerto Rico Queer Filmfest and Mix Mexico 21st Sexual Diversity Film Festival.
Other noted pieces of his writing include Pregnant Boy featured in the anthology From Macho To Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction edited by Charles Rice-González.