(Originally published in Bay Windows, July 23, 2010. Regular readers will recognize many of the items in this mid-year roundup from previous reviews I’ve done—but there’s one new item in there, so read on.)
It’s been a good year so far for books and media about LGBT parenting—but not so much for items aimed at our children. Let’s take a look.
She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (Nonbiological Lesbian) Motherhood, by Amie Klempnauer Miller, is a touching and heartfelt chronicle of becoming a mother and navigating the first year of parenthood. as she and her partner ” discover who we are, together, as parents.” Miller has managed to find a thoughtful balance between illuminating the things that set nonbiological lesbian parents apart with the things that bring all parents together.
And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families, ed. Susan Goldberg and Chloe Brushwood Rose, is an essay collection that came out in Canada in 2009 and is now available in the U.S. The more than 20 authors include those who have used a known donor, those who have themselves donated sperm or eggs or been a surrogate, and the children created by these acts. They explore what it means to be a family, the importance (or not) of biological connections, and the challenges of negotiating roles and responsibilities outside the traditional two-parent dyad.
Mom’s Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mothers’ Custody Movement, a documentary by Jody Laine, Shan Ottey, and Shad Reinstein, shows us how lesbian parents have been a vital part of the LGBT rights movement since shortly after the Stonewall Riots in 1969. It gives us a look at several early custody cases involving lesbian moms—and how the activism they spawned has had a direct impact on LGBT people and organizations today. The film was released in 2006 but is now out on home video, and available at frameline.org.
The Kids Are All Right, the new mainstream film directed by Lisa Cholodenko and starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian moms Nic and Jules, and Mark Ruffalo as their sperm donor Paul, may at first worry people who learn that Jules has an affair with Paul. Will it be a rehash of the old clichés that a lesbian really just needs a man or that children need a father figure? Cholodenko (who shares writing credit with Stuart Blumberg) has deftly avoided these pitfalls by keeping the focus on the universals of human relationships and never having Moore question her identity. She has given us a believable and positive portrayal of a lesbian family, and a rare look at one with teens instead of small children.
The COLAGE Donor Insemination Guide, by Jeff DeGroot, is meant to address some of the real-life issues and concerns of donor-conceived children in the fifth grade and above. Parents, prospective parents, teachers, and service providers may also find it useful. DeGroot spent several months speaking with LGBTQ parents and their teen and adult children, whose insights form the heart of the Guide. It also includes a list of resources, tips for medical professionals, and legal questions and answers from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
There have been almost no books for young children this year that depict LGBT people, beyond a few forgettable self-published items. The authors of two of the most famous LGBT children’s books, however, have two new works. Neither one has an overt LGBT theme this time, but each is broad enough to encompass different types of families.
The first is Christian, the Hugging Lion by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, authors of And Tango Makes Three. The tale, like Tango, is based on a true story, and Parnell and Richardson show the same flair for simple yet winsome dialog. They also left the relationship between the two male protagonists rather ambiguous. They are not a couple in real life, and Parnell and Richardson do not imply that they are—but because they leave matters vague, readers are free to imagine them a couple if they wish.
The second is Just Like Mama by Lesléa Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies: 20th Anniversary Edition. The book is a sweet, rhyming ode from a little girl to her Mama. Whether Mama is a single mom or one half of a couple that includes another mom or a dad remains unclear. As with Christian, that vagueness makes it work for a variety of families.
Middle readers, long neglected as young adult and picture books dominate the small world of LGBT-inclusive children’s literature, have one new item this year: The Case of the Vanishing Valuables, the second volume of the Candlestone Inn mystery series by Nancy Garden. (The first is The Case of the Stolen Scarab.) Garden is the author of the classic Annie on My Mind, one of the first young adult books to depict a same-sex teen relationship.
Unfortunately, Candlestone Inn’s “spunky girl with a somewhat annoying yet still loved younger brother” theme has already been overdone (see the “Judy Moody” series by Megan McDonald, or the “Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne, among others), even if in this case they have two moms. Yes, there is tremendous value in the representation of LGBT families, but it would be nice to see it in a book that didn’t have such clunky exposition and flat characters. It’s no worse than many of the mainstream middle-grade mystery series that publishers churn out, but to fans of Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and similar gems, it falls short.
Going forward, we need more LGBT-inclusive children’s books and media showing families of color, known donors, transgender parents, working class parents, and anything with more diversity than the white, middle-class, two mom/dad families who have dominated so far. We need engaging stories and compelling characters no matter what. We’ll see what the rest of 2010 brings.
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