This month, Jonathan Merritt—cultural commentator, speaker, literary agent, and author (Learning to Speak God)—published his first children’s book, My Guncle and Me (Running Press), a gentle (yet authentic) story of Henry Higgleston, a young boy bullied and teased at school. Henry is different, he believes. But when his “guncle” and his dog Jimmy Chew come for a visit, Henry begins to see that each person is a gift and is allowed to be who they are made to be. Love is what matters most, Henry learns, as makes friends with a new group of kids who accept him for who he is.

PW recently caught up with Merritt to talk about his debut children’s book, and what it means to be a “guncle.”

First of all, what is a guncle?

“Guncle” is a common word in the LGBTQ+ community that means “gay uncle.” It’s meant to indicate that this person, this guncle, is really special to the family who calls him that. I’m guncle to 10 children now, part of their families and given an honored and celebrated seat at their tables.

How important is it for you to have the honored title of “guncle?”

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention, in the home of a prominent televangelist who proudly described himself as [politically] right of Ronald Reagan. When I was publicly outed by a friend in 2012, I was a teaching pastor at my dad’s church. It was like being pushed off a cliff that I would never have jumped off of. I moved to New York City, eventually moving to what became a haven for post-evangelicals on the campus of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. We survived the pandemic together. Imagine coming from a place where you were told gay people were a threat to families and children, to a context where you are honored members of the family. It was incredibly transformative.

How did you move from adult nonfiction to a children’s picture book?

I’m a literary agent and felt called to work with children’s book authors. One night I confessed to a friend that I thought I was supposed to write a children’s book myself. She suggested I write about being a guncle. I signed with Running Press, which has a long history of developing books by queer authors on topics of inclusion.

How does your faith shine through this book?

One of the most important pages is the church scene that shows a queer character of faith praying and singing loudly, who is present and not ashamed. Guncle rises above the condemnation, fully embracing that being both gay and Christian can be a better version of faith. It’s a reminder that the way we live with authenticity is seen by little eyes. Henry is seeing what it means for his guncle to lift his head high.

What message do you hope My Guncle and Me conveys?

The best children’s books can save people a lot of money in therapy later. I could write a book for adults that tells my story and I might change a few minds. But telling a beautiful story of kindness and inclusion for children will have a great impact. Imagine what it would mean to a child to create a world in which people like me have a lot less to fear.