Below are books recommended for children of LGBTI+ parents that cover a range of issues.
Heather Has Two Mommies / Newman, Lesléa; Souza, Diana, ill. — Boston, Mass. Alyson Wonderland, c1989.
Ironically, though this children’s book could not be gentler in tone or kinder in spirit, it became the focus of fierce censorship battles at local libraries across North America following its publication in 1989. Fundamentalist critics accused Newman and Souza of creating radical propaganda designed to destroy American “Family Values.” Nothing could be further from the truth as even a cursory reading of Heather’s tale will confirm. After learning how her two mommies fell in love and decided to conceive her by alternative insemination, Heather goes to nursery school at Molly’s house. When Heather hears other kids talking about their daddies, she starts to cry because her family is not like theirs. Molly wisely has all the children draw pictures of their families, and what these comfortingly reveal to Heather (and to young readers) is the wide range of alternative family structures existing in American society today. The illustrator has cleverly juxtaposed the kids- “naive” sketches of their families with her own soft charcoal drawings of Heather, Mama Kate, Mama Jane, Gingersnap the Cat, and Midnight the Dog.
Pugdog / URen, Andrea. — New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
This amusing lesbian-feminist fable about mistaken gender assumptions is just right for reading to an elementary school child (especially a girl) whose gender identity is manifestly “unorthodox” and likely to become more so with the onset of sexual self-awareness. The apparent “hero,” an extremely active puppy named Pugdog, loves chasing squirrels, rolling in the dirt, digging big holes, playing tug-of-war, chomping on knucklebones, and receiving a rough belly scratch from “his” master Mike. A trip to the vet to remove a splinter in Pugdog’s paw reveals to Mike the surprising fact that his pet is not a he but a she. Projecting the dominant cultural gender system with its stereotypes of masculinity and femininity onto the animal world, Mike proceeds to impose ultra-femme behaviors, activities, and even outfits on his poor little baby-butch. He even points out a swishy poodle to her as a feminine role model. Though Pugdog tries hard to conform to Mike’s new vision of her identity, she soon grows depressed and runs away to the park to resume her old “lifestyle.” When Mike finds her, he is delighted that she is happy again. “No more dainty outfits or fancy salons for you,” he promises, “You’re my Pugdog. You’re perfect as you are.” This reassuring message about parental acceptance of a queer offspring is delivered with a gentle touch of irony when Mike and Pugdog discover that the ultra-chic poodle is really a he not a she. The full-colour illustrations on every other page hilariously capture Pugdog’s many emotions in her journey towards self-affir.
One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads / Valentine, Johnny; Sarecky, Melody. Boston, Mass. Alyson Wonderland, 1994.
This amusing tale, told in Dr. Seuss-style rhyme, is designed to teach young children an important lesson about social, racial, and sexual diversity. Though the dads in the story vary in number and colour – even a green dad pops up in the final pages — these observable facts turn out to be completely irrelevant to their parental function. This moral is, of course, applicable to gay dads and straight dads, but the complexities of sexual identity are not dealt with directly in this tale (as they are in Michael Willhoite’s Daddy’s Roommate) because the target audience of Valentine’s work is kindergarten-age or younger. The illustrations by Melody Sarecky are appropriately bright and colourful.
Asha’s Mums / Elwin, Rosamund& Paulse, Michele; Jordan, Dawn Lee, ill. — Toronto: Women’s Press, c1990.
Co-authored by a lesbian couple who are also “mums” of colour like Asha’s parents, this gentle cautionary tale is designed both to warn kids like Asha that they may encounter teachers and schoolmates whose idea of family doesn’t correspond to theirs, and more importantly, to provide them with effective strategies for dealing with homophobia in the school system and in society at large. Asha (who appears to be around six or seven years old) is excited by the prospect of a school trip to the Science Centre, but when her teacher Ms. Samuels rejects the girl’s signed permission form on the grounds that, despite the two signatures on it, she can’t have two mums, Asha stalwartly refuses to identify which mum (Alice or Sara) is the “real” one. The heterosexist assumptions lurking behind the form are exposed not just by the mums in a parent-teacher interview but also by Asha’s friends Rita and Diane who stick up for her right to go on the trip when it is challenged by classmates Coreen and Judi. The class discussion of Asha’s “case” becomes an opportunity for educating the prejudiced kids as well as their teacher on the social reality of lesbian family life and the social virtue of family diversity. The potentially “hair-raising” conflict is peacefully resolved through dialogue, and Asha has a great time at the Science Centre playing “porcupine” with a popular static electricity device which makes her hair stand on end. The water-colour illustrations for the story are by Dawn Lee, who knows this hair-raising device well since she designs exhibits like it at the Ontario Science Centre.
Saturday is Pattyday / Newman, Lesléa; Hegel, Annette. — Toronto: Women’s Press, c1993.
Newman’s widely acclaimed (and still controversial) classics Heather Has Two Mommies and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride were designed simply to celebrate the social fact of lesbian and gay parenthood in the post-Stonewall era. In this less upbeat work, dating from the disillusioned 1990s, Newman tackles an emotionally difficult topic for any children’s book: the impact of divorce on family dynamics. Frankie is the young son of lesbian moms Allie and Patty, whose bitter fighting keeps him up at night worrying about their future. Not even his pet dinosaur, Doris Delores Brontosaurus, can console him when his moms split up and Patty moves out into her own apartment. Though Allie and Patty don’t seem to be on speaking terms yet, Frankie is able to speak with Patty everyday on the phone and gets to visit her every Saturday (which gets renamed in her honour). The legal distinction between his biological mother and her ex-partner has clearly not distanced him from Patty emotionally or stripped her of her mom status in his heart. His continuing love for her is shown by his decision to leave his beloved Doris over at her house as a sign of his continuing presence in her life.
Morning light : an educational storybook for children and their caregivers about HIV/AIDS and saying goodbye / Merrifield, Margaret; Collins, Heather. — Don Mills, Ont. Stoddart, 1995
Following the niche-market success of Come Sit by Me, a children’s book about a boy with AIDS, Dr. Merrifield (who used to work in the UWO Student Health Services) produced this therapeutic tale about children coming to terms with the AIDS-related death of a parent. Max and Maggie are twins. Their mother, who is apparently single, is diagnosed with HIV-disease. Mom obviously is too tired to join an AIDS activist group to protest the gender-bias in the treatment of female PWAs. She just goes to bed and wastes away. When she gets too sick to take care of her kids, Uncle Dan and Auntie Beth move into their pastoral cottage on the grassy edge of a village to look after them. Mom dies. Everyone at the funeral is “very, very sad.” The twins grieve but are consoled by the memory of Mom singing a lullaby to them: “In the sky, a twinkling light/ Good night, star bright./ Soon will come the morning light,/ Good night, sleep tight.” Though these allegorical lyrics are deeply religious in their apocalyptic implications, Merrifield’s text offers no overtly Christian consolations. The “morning light” isn’t the Son of God rising over the New Jerusalem after the Resurrection of the Dead – at least not explicitly. Yet Collins’s illustrations (especially on pages 22-23) situate the crisis of Mom’s death within the comfort zone of a traditional Protestant chapel nestled in the glades of a highly aestheticized forest. Despite all the matter-of-fact advice on children’s grief and what adults can do to alleviate it (e.g. “Phrases to avoid: passed away, went to sleep”: page 29), the narrative topologically foreshadows Mom’s awakening in heaven after she has gone to “sleep” in the Valley of the Shadow. Old allegories die hard.
Amy asks a question, Grandma, What’s a Lesbian? / Arnold, Jeanne; Lindquist, Barbara, ill. — Racine, WI: Mother Courage Press, c1996.
Grandma Bonnie and Grandma Jo have been in a lesbian relationship for more than two decades when they decide to come out to the world by marching in a gay pride parade. This decision prompts their granddaughter Amy to wonder not only about what a lesbian might be but also what “gay pride” means. Grandma Bonnie “is an author, a musician, a computer expert, and a woman who owns her own business,” Amy muses (page 10), “And she’s proud of all that. She’s proud of all her four children and eight grandchildren. Why does she want to go to a gay pride parade to feel proud?” This complex question is answered with tact, humour, and sensitivity to the family implications of the word “pride.” From her beloved grandmas, Amy learns about the social diversity of lesbians and gay men, their interconnected histories of resisting discrimination, and their emergent cultural rituals such as marching and “handfasting” (“it’s kind of like a wedding ceremony with their woman friends at what they call “their moon circle”: page 22). As a result of this new knowledge, Amy feels even closer to Bonnie and Jo than before and experiences her own sense of pride in the harmonious openness and unity of her family.
Two Moms, the Zark, and Me / Valentine, Johnny; Lopez, Angelo. — Boston, Mass. Alyson Wonderland, 1993.
Winner of a Lambda Literary Award for his first book (The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans), Valentine has specialized in writing children’s books celebrating social and sexual diversity and promoting open-mindedness about family life on the queer side. This tale, his fourth, is written in rhyme and vibrantly illustrated by Angelo Lopez. The plot – a queering of the quest fable familiar from Dr. Seuss – turns a young boy’s trip to the park into an allegorical encounter with homophobic “familialism.” When the boy’s two moms lose him in a crowd, he wanders into a small zoo containing a large fabulous beast named the Zark. An overbearing couple, the McFinks, try to reunite him with his parents, but when Mr. McFink learns that the boy has two moms instead of a “proper” mother and father, he launches into a bigoted attack on lesbian motherhood and tries to persuade the boy to abandon his family. Fortunately the Zark (whose fabulousness is clearly gay, despite his Jurassic Park “look”) springs to his aid, and Mr. McFink gets a well-deserved dunking in a nearby fishpond. Then another couple, Don and his wife MJ, notice the boy’s plight and win his trust by singing the praises of family diversity (“For real families come / In all forms and sizes”). Under their cheerful guidance he locates his two moms at the Lost and Found, and his close encounter with the Dark Side of American Family Values ends happily.
Uncle What-Is-It Is Coming to Visit!! / Willhoite, Michael, 1946. — Boston: Alyson Wonderland, c1993.
The author of Daddy’s Roommate (the cause of many a censorship battle at local libraries across North America in the 1990s) strikes again with this hilarious tale of two youngsters who wonder what a “gay man” is when their mom tells them that their gay uncle Brett is coming for a family visit. On learning from a pair of oafish teenage neighbours that gay men are either silly drag queens or sinister leathermen, the kids develop a bad case of homophobia. In their simple ignorance, they transform these common homophobic stereotypes into nightmare images of Uncle Brett as a gender-bending monster. Fortunately their fears vanish when Brett turns out to be a nice, unthreatening guy who shares their sense of fun and their loathing for brussels sprouts. “He told us that some gay men do dress up like women and some do wear black leather,” they report, “But that’s all right too.” This simple lesson about gay diversity is as important a moral as the complex lesson about family values and homophobic stereotyping.