(Originally published in Bay Windows, December 11, 2008.)
LGBT parents or our kids on your holiday list? For the most part, mainstream gift guides will work just fine. Not everything we own has to be rainbow colored, and our kids already have three “I love my mommies” t-shirts each. If you do want something with a little more of an LGBT-family slant to add to the mix, though, here are some recommended books and DVDs from the past year:
For younger children:
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by Sarah Brannen tells the sweet story of Chloe, an anthropomorphic young guinea pig who worries that her Uncle Bobby won’t keep having fun with her after he marries his boyfriend Jamie. Brannen’s rich watercolor drawings match the tranquil but sometimes playful tone of the text. This is the only LGBT-inclusive picture book to appear this year, but it is a delightful one, backed by a major publisher (G. P. Putnam). The story is not about “being gay” per se, but rather about family relationships, change, and the bonding power of love. Despite this, several library patrons in Parker, Colorado, have already challenged the work’s appearance on the shelves. All the more reason to support what is a wonderful book in any case.
The Octonauts & the Frown Fish, by design duo Meomi (Vicki Wong and Michael Murphy), is not really LGBT themed, but bends gender roles enough to appeal to many LGBT families. The Octonauts are a band of adorable, adventurous critters living under the sea. Led by the accordion-playing Captain Barnacles Bear, the team also includes male nurse Peso Penguin and female engineer Tweak Bunny. The swashbuckling Kwazii Kitten, referred to as male in an earlier book, is female in this one, making her perhaps the first transgender character in a picture book (although it is unclear if this is intentional). In this volume, the Octonauts try to cheer up a frowning fish, and in the process learn about caring, sharing, and what makes different people happy. There’s just enough humor and sass to keep the cuteness from cloying, and the detail of the Japanese-inspired illustrations will entrance both young and old.
Rosie O’Donnell may court controversy, but as the mother of four, she also knows a thing or two about kids and crafts. Her Rosie O’Donnell’s Crafty U: 100 Easy Projects the Whole Family Can Enjoy All Year Long is a collection of 100 simple projects for kids five through 12. Organized by season, the activities are simple enough even for craft-inept adults looking to amuse a child. Most use household items or products readily found at most craft stores.
Meema Spadola’s award-winning Our House: a Very Real Documentary About Kids of Gay & Lesbian Parents profiles five gay and lesbian families with teens or pre-teens. First released in 2000, it came out this year on DVD, along with bonus footage of the families today. Spadola, who was 10 when her mother divorced her father and came out, made the film because she wanted to see representations of families like her own, told from the children’s point of view. The five families, three with moms and two with dads, live in disparate areas of the country, are of differing ethnicities, and became families in different ways.
My Tiki Girl, by Jennifer McMahon, is a captivating young adult book by a best-selling author of adult fiction (who also happens to be a lesbian mom). The protagonist, Maggie Keller, lost her mother in a car accident two years ago and blames herself. She enters tenth grade as an outcast with a shattered leg, but befriends the new girl in class, Dahlia Wainwright, also on the social margins. A crisis looms, however, when Maggie finds herself falling for Dahlia at the same time that old friends impinge upon her new world. A sensitive treatment of how the lure of normalcy can cause different people to make different choices.
For older teens and adults, Troy Johnson’s Family Outing: What Happened When I Found Out My Mother Was Gay is a scathing, funny, ribald case study in what can go wrong when honesty and openness are missing in a parent-child relationship. At 10 years old, Johnson found out his divorced mother was a lesbian when her ex-girlfriend outed her. Johnson chronicles his journey from delinquency and bigotry to maturity and acceptance in a coming-of-age story whose message is stronger because he never makes the process seem easy.
My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy, by Andrea Askowitz, is a cantankerous journey to parenthood as a single mom, complete with weight gain, leg cramps, hormone-induced depression and well-intentioned friends who never quite do the right thing. The book is not just about pregnancy, but also about human relationships of many forms: good, bad and sometimes strange. It’s the perfect antidote to the slew of cheery parenting books that make pregnancy seem like a blissful time of womanly glow and nursery decoration.
In the award-winning Finn’s Girl, by Toronto filmmakers Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, Dr. Finn Jefferies is recovering from the death of her partner Nancy. She is trying to raise their 11-year-old daughter Zelly, deal with threats to Nancy’s abortion clinic, and re-enter the dating scene. Zelly is rebelling by skipping school and shoplifting. The actors have a convincing chemistry, and despite a couple of plot points that seem forced, the film presents a convincing and sympathetic portrayal of a mother trying to reconnect with her daughter.
The best present of all, of course, especially for kids, is the gift of your time. Make sure to offer some of that along with something to unwrap.