A few weeks ago, while working in the Youth department downtown, a patron asked me if the library had any books for young children that depicted “alternative families” (by which she meant LGBT picture books). Unsure about how to begin such a search in our catalog, I decided to start with the one book I could think of right away: Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman. When I looked up the title, I found that we do indeed have it, but not where I thought it would be; it had been categorized not with the picture books but in the non-fiction section, in the area for “family issues”. That’s where I also found several other picture books depicting LGBT families. I figured that there must be other people in the community looking for these kinds of books, who like me don’t know where to look or even what’s out there. So I decided to conduct an assessment of the literature available for young children that portrays non-traditional families, particularly same-gender parents.
It turns out that this year, 2009, is the 20th anniversary of the publication of the famous (infamous?) Heather Has Two Mommies. It was revolutionary at its time: it was the first book published in the US that depicted a child being raised by two parents of the same gender. (The very first picture book on the subject was "Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin", published in 1981 by Danish author Susanne Bosche.) Since its publication, "Heather Has Two Mommies" has been a source of controversy; it was one of the most frequently banned books in the 1990s, according to the American Library Association.
Even though the controversy over this particular book has died down in recent years, there is still conflict over books that portray gay/lesbian couples raising children. The picture book And Tango Makes Three, about the Central Park Zoo “gay” penguins, was the most banned book this year. Perhaps for that reason, not many books have been published on this topic in the last 20 years. Fortunately for the patrons of the AADL, we carry many of the titles that do exist. I read most of them, and would like to offer some recommendations and critiques of the ones that may be less familiar:
Daddy’s Roommate (1990) – A little boy talks about all the fun things he does with his daddy and his daddy’s new roommate Frank (since his parents got divorced). While it was probably groundbreaking at its time by being one of the first books to show a happy, loving, gay couple raising a child, the book is actually rather boring and didactic.
Asha's Mums (1990) – Asha is looking forward to going to the Science Centre with her class, but her permission slip has two mothers' names on it. Will her teacher still let her go? This cute story comes from Canada, and features an African-American family and multi-racial classmates.
My Two Uncles (1995) – Elly loves her favorite Uncle Ned and his friend Uncle Phil, but doesn’t understand why her Grampy doesn’t want Phil to come to the family party. Elly’s dad explains both being gay and prejudice against it in a way that shows compassion for both Ned and Phil and for Grampy.
King & King (2000) – A new twist on an old fairytale. The queen tells her son the prince that he must get married, but he isn’t interested in any of the princesses… and then he meets the perfect prince. An intriguing idea, but poorly executed: the writing is awkward, the characters are barely developed, and the multimedia collage illustrations are overly bright and cluttered.
Antonio's Card (2005) – Antonio is making a card for Mother's Day, showing himself with his Mami and his mother's partner, Leslie. But he is afraid to let his classmates see it after he hears them making fun of how Leslie looks. This bi-lingual book tells the story both in English and Spanish, with bright colorful illustrations.
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding (2008) – When Chloe learns that her favorite Uncle Bobby is getting married, she worries that she will no longer be as special to him. As Chloe spends time with Bobby and his boyfriend Jamie, however, she realizes that she will always be special – to both her uncles. This cute story is an excellent addition to the genre because the fact that both Bobby and Jamie are male is not ever an issue.
In Our Mothers’ House (2009) – A new book from Patricia Polacco, who is well-known for her picture books depicting interracial friendship and understanding. From the School Library Journal review: “The narrator, a black girl, describes how her two Caucasian mothers, Marmee and Meema, adopted her, her Asian brother, and her red-headed sister. She tells about the wonderful times they have growing up in Berkeley, CA.” This book is currently on order.