Beyond "Heather Has Two Mommies"

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.

Coming Out in the Movies

Coming Out Day 2009Coming Out Day 2009The week of October 4-12 is National Coming Out Week. LGBT visibility and acceptance has changed drastically over the course of cinematic history and is still changing today. Need proof? Check out these documentaries. The Celluloid Closet uses clips and anecdotes from over 120 films to show the changing social climate towards homosexuals in the movies. Fabulous! The Story Of Queer Cinema provides an overview of the history of gay and lesbian cinema of the past 50 years.

There have been many great films telling the stories of people coming out of the closet and facing their sexuality with honesty and courage. Here are a few of my favorites.
Beautiful Thing - teenage love in England.
Big Eden - city dweller readjusts to small town life.
Transamerica - a road trip full of discoveries.

For real life Coming Out stories, try these documentaries on for size.
A Jihad for Love - Islam like you've never seen it.
Being Gay: Coming Out in the 21st Century - a look at people's first steps.
Just Call Me Kade - transitioning as a teen.
Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World - a glimpse of an emerging global movement.

Alison Bechdel's Bittersweet Biography

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, is one of the most poignant and touching memoirs I have ever read. Her autobiographical graphic novel centers on her relationship to her father, the discovery of his homosexuality (and her own), and his death. The name of the book refers to the family home, a funeral home run by Bechdel’s father, Bruce. Bechdel spent seven years writing and illustrating Fun Home and it's packed with detail, allusions, and pop culture references. The novel pulls off the difficult feat of being simultaneously a quick and easy read and a complexly layered piece of literature. Fun Home was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, in the Autobiography/Memoir category, and won the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.

Alison Bechdel is also the author of the popular comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.

Affinity

Margaret Prior, an upper class woman in Victorian London, begins visiting the women of Millbank prison after a failed suicide attempt. She finds herself drawn to Selina Dawes, a spiritual medium sent to prison after the death of a woman during a séance. Margaret begins to believe Selina’s claims of occult power after a series of mysterious gifts appear. As the women’s relationship grows deeper, Margaret starts to develop a plan to free Selina from Millbank.

The Times of Harvey Milk

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Sean Penn’s Oscar winning performance as Harvey Milk in last year’s Milk is phenomenal. He truly captured the spirit of the late Harvey Milk. Milk, AKA The Mayor of Castro Street, was the first openly gay man elected to public office and he became an inspiration for many. He was later assasinated by Dan White in a truly high profile case for that time. The film chronicles how Milk got into politics and tells the story of what eventually became of him.

To see more on the story, and see the real Harvey Milk in action, I highly recommend the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, which originally aired in 1984 and won an Oscar for Best Documentary. Finally, for some page turning biography action, check out The Harvey Milk Story.

The D Word: Comic Collections to Watch Out For.

Dykes to Watch Out ForDykes to Watch Out For

My latest preferred form of episodic entertainment has been found in reading our collections of Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, a comics series about a diverse group of lesbian women and their many adventures. It's just good, fun reading, with characters that you really come to care about. But it's also one of the few pieces of current, popular storytelling that I know of which actually focuses on women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and progressive issues. I didn't even realize what I was missing until I started immersing myself into these great stories. We have many of the compilations here at the library.

And of course, I would highly recommend Bechdel's Fun Home: her graphic memoir about her early life and experience of coming out. It's a really special book.

National Coming Out Week

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Cities and universities all across the country are celebrating National Coming Out Week. This annual observance takes place during the week of October 11, National Coming Out Day, which marks the anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. National Coming Out Week is a week in which people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or allies celebrate their identities and remember the efforts and obstacles of the pioneering GLBT people who made a difference in this country.

The University of Michigan has an extensive list of GLBT-related events this month, including panel discussions, lectures, a Coming Out Rally, and even a performance by David Sedaris! A complete list of events can be seen at the University's Spectrum Center website. Some events are free and open to the public, and some events require tickets. Check it out and have fun supporting your GLBT friends and family!

GLBT Teen Top Sellers

Here are the most popular Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender titles over at Amazon.com. I just started Between Mom and Jo and I’ve got Keeping You A Secret in my hold queue (I dig Julie Anne Peters). For books that also discuss issues of racial identity, check out The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson and A Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr.

Top Sellers

Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies by Brent Hartinger
Totally Joe by James Howe
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez
Getting It by Alex Sanchez
Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters
Between Mom and Jo by Julie Anne Peters
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger
Boy Girl Boy by Ron Koertge

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