When Pizza Hut announced its June reads for its summer literacy program—kids can earn free pies for tracking their reads—the inclusion of picture book Big Wig made big waves. The story, brought to life by Seattle illustrator Levi Hastings, follows a fabulous pink wig owned by budding queen B.B. Bedazzle. Wig brings confidence and inspiration to all the children she lands upon before returning to B.B. and claiming a prize at the Big Wig Ball.
Conservative social media accounts attacked with an arsenal of Pizza Hut boycotts, death threats sent to author Jonathan Hillman, and online reviews intended to plummet the book’s ratings. Hastings, however, has largely avoided the backlash.
The illustrator watched from the digital sidelines in bewilderment as the culture war over a picture book played out—although he “wasn’t particularly surprised” that Pizza Hut’s inclusion of Big Wig was met with such fervent vehemence. Instead, he says, he was buoyed by a preemptive outpouring of support from Seattle neighbors.
When he was first approached about illustrating the book, Hastings, who works with various publications and brands (and has contributed to Seattle Met), was immediately hooked. Big Wig was the story he wanted to read as a child, he says. A visual Hastings created shows main character B.B. Bedazzle’s bedroom scattered with makeup, a robot, dinosaur paraphernalia, a pink feather boa, and a soccer ball. It’s a depiction of Hastings’s “ideal bedroom,” the one he wishes he could have dressed up and played with action figures in as a young boy growing up in rural, deeply religious southern Idaho.
While representation of queer culture in children’s literature, like Big Wig, becomes more mainstream, the backlash to something as simple as a bedtime story “reminds us how much work needs to be done to push back the rising tide of ignorance and bigotry,” Hastings asserts in a recent Instagram post.
As the Pizza Hut kerfuffle and political moves in other states show, the inclusive Seattle bubble is an increasingly rare space of relative safety and support for LGBTQ youth. And even a perceived safe haven like Seattle can’t risk dismissing it to live in the ignorant bliss of a liberal illusion. Just recently in uber-liberal Oakland, a public library’s storytime led by a local drag queen was disrupted by men wearing neo-fascist Proud Boys regalia and shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs.
For now, Hastings fights for the next generation’s access to inclusive literature. He’s even sprinkled signed copies of Big Wig into Little Free Libraries around Seattle for treasure-hunting young readers.