Self-published books have long been a part of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s literature. Heather Has Two Mommies, one of the first picture books to depict same-sex parents, was published by author Lesléa Newman and a friend before it was picked up by a small LGBTQ press. The Internet has made self-publishing even easier, and parents, teachers, LGBTQ youth, and others are taking advantage of this to create LGBTQ-inclusive books for which they see a need, even as mainstream publishers slowly start to do the same. Here are a few recent ones that I haven’t covered before.
Jano Oscherwitz’s Yetta and the Fantastic Mom Suits stars a young girl with two moms wishes she could be the grown up for a change—and gets her wish, with the help of a dybbuk, a creature from Jewish folklore. As with most such magical wish fulfillment, it’s not quite what she hoped for. I like the book not only because having two moms isn’t an “issue,” but also because it has a truly fun and fanciful story arc.
Nine-year-old Avery Jackson had the honor of being on the cover of National Geographic’s special issue on gender, but she’s not just a pretty face—she’s also an author. Her It’s Okay to Sparkle! tells the story of her realization that although some people thought she was a boy, she is really a girl. Because this is her story, it includes some of the bumps along the way: “Even though I knew I was a girl, I was afraid to tell my mom and dad,” she writes. “I thought they would not love me anymore. I thought they would throw me out and stop giving me food.” Another page shows protesters holding signs that say things like, “Trans is bad.” The rest of the book makes clear that her parents love her no matter what, and that the protesters don’t understand and are scared. I worry a little that those pages could be put fears into children who don’t have them yet, but for trans kids and their friends who unfortunately do, the book offers reassurance that being trans is a fine thing, and ultimately, one is much happier being one’s true self. (And if you like Avery’s story, see also I Am Jazz, written by then-12-year-old trans girl Jazz Jennings.)
I’m Jay, Let’s Play, by early childhood educator Beth Reichmuth, started when Reichmuth and her colleagues were trying to figure out how to support a child in her class whose assigned gender was male, but loved wearing tutus and dresses. She created the book specifically without any negative images (even ones that are then shown to be false) about gender nonconforming children, she said in a video for the book’s Kickstarter campaign (now completed). “There should be books that show children exploring gender freely, without also introducing the hurtful ways that people can sometimes respond,” she wrote. I’m Jay, Let’s Play is simply a story about Jay and friends Ren, Finn, Casey, and Riley as they play at preschool. No pronouns are used for any of them, and their clothing and activities are a mix of typically “boy” and “girl” things. It’s celebratory and playful, showing children with a range of gender identities and expressions having fun with each other—a good counterpart to the more message-driven It’s Okay to Sparkle, depending on the needs of the children reading/listening.
Enid and Her Two Mums, by teacher Jess Skogstad, falls into the issue-driven camp. Young Enid one day “wondered why she had two mums and no dad, the other kids had one of each—it made her sad.” Over the course of the book, her sadness is alleviated as she learns about the diversity of families. This isn’t a bad book—but it’s essentially the same storyline as Heather Has Two Mommies—and even Heather author Lesléa Newman toned down her protagonist’s sadness about having two moms when she came out with the book’s 25th anniversary edition, as she explained to me in an interview. Still, if you come from a place where “mum” is more common than “mom,” you might appreciate Skogstad’s take on the theme. And if your child is experiencing qualms about having two moms, it’s always good to have more books that show another child going through the same thing and learning positive lessons along the way.
In Jennifer Dukoff’s Meeting My Brother, a girl named Hazel goes with her mom to visit her brother Ravi, whom she has never met. After playing together and going home, they communicate online and by sending each other presents. They then visit again and play together before going back to their separate homes once more. When Hazel asks her mother why they don’t live together, she learns they “came from the same seeds. We just have different mommies.” The story might have worked better if we’d found that out near the beginning, though, rather than on the last page. Also, although Hazel says that she and her brother are both two years old, they do things in the book that seem far too advanced for two-year-olds, like brushing their own teeth and sending videos to each other. Still, I’m not aware of any other picture book about donor siblings, and that’s a gap that clearly needs filling. I give credit to Dukoff, too, for only showing one mom in the story, so that it works for many families who may have used donor sperm: single moms, two-mom families, and mom-dad families with fertility challenges.
Sometimes, a children’s book can become something more. A Peacock Among Pigeons, by Tyler Curry, is the joyful story of a boy peacock learning to love his flamboyant feathers as he finds community and friendship with other colorful birds, leaving the teasing of the gray and narrow-minded pigeons behind. There’s an obvious message for young queer boys of the fabulous persuasion—but also a message for anyone about being comfortable with oneself. And—just announced today—the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC) will be adapting the book into a multimedia stage performance. BGMC will collaborate with award-winning composer John Bucchino, a local children’s chorus, and the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus on the project, supported by a $10,000 Equality Fund grant from The Boston Foundation. The show will premiere in Boston and San Diego in 2018. Stay tuned for all the feathery details!
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