Children's & Middle Grade · Picture Books · Queer

LGBT+ Picture Books: “How Do I Explain to My Kids?”

Yesterday we started talking about types of queer-friendly picture books, and LGBT+ inclusion in counting/alphabet books about families. These are the most basic type, but not the most common… That honor belongs to the “explaining same-sex parents” genre.

Daddy's Roommate coverThese are books that talk to toddlers about how two men or two women can be in love using the example of adult family members, like the groundbreaking Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, or some “uncle” books from around the same time in the nineties like My Two Uncles. (Or the borderline-inappropriately-homoerotic hilariously-illustrated Daddy’s Roommate.) Even well-meaning straight folks ask how they’re going to explain queer families to their kids, and a lot of these books seem designed to do that.

More often nowadays we get books not openly talking to toddlers, but about toddlers explaining to their friends/readers that their lives aren’t any different just because they have two mommies or two daddies, like the A Tale of Two Daddies/Mommies duology or Newman’s more recent Daddy, Papa & Me/Mommy, Mama & MeIn Our Mothers’ House is a good one that I appreciated for acknowledging that neighbors might not be supportive.

Donovan's Big Day coverWe’ve also gotten stories about toddlers doing stuff that relates to adults’ relationships — my personal favorite is Donovan’s Big Day, which is ALSO by Newman and is a super adorable book about Donovan being nervous about doing a good job in the wedding. Some others are Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, which is similar, and Stella Brings the Familyanother super good one with a more sophisticated treatment of the usual themes.

A lot of these books are super cute, some of them are even great as noted, but as a whole, they have the same problems as the family list books. Of course the oldest ones from the 1980s and 1990s are about uncles, they wanted more distance from the kids and that seemed more “normal.” A perma-single uncle might be gay, but not parents, who were assumed to be male/female and straight. We’ve pretty quickly moved beyond that to same-sex couples, especially lesbians in the early days, and we stayed there for a good long time, all books about what it’s like to have two mommies or daddies. Which is super good and important and I want those kids to have books about families like theirs, and all kids to have books that explain queerness in an age-appropriate way. But what about all the people who don’t fit into the heteronormative mold? And where does that leave a bi parent? A genderqueer parent?

And where does that leave queer kids? All these books are about explaining to toddlers that other families might have same-sex parents, or to give those kids a representation of a family with same-sex parents like theirs. The kids always seem like blank slates for the information. More on this, and the one unexpected exception to the “no queer kids” rule, tomorrow.

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3 thoughts on “LGBT+ Picture Books: “How Do I Explain to My Kids?”

  1. One interesting one along these lines is “The Purim Superhero”. PJ Library, a service that offers free Jewish heritage-themed books to pre- and grade-schoolers, offered this a few years ago (a couple years after the book’s original release), then pulled it, then offered it only to families who requested it. It’s about a kid trying to pick out a costume to wear for a school parade. He has two dads (one American, one Israeli), but this is presented as accepted background with no explanation or question. My kid, who was 4 at the time, had absolutely no trouble with the concept, but evidently some parents still found it controversial…

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