The dearth of good books for gay families

During our weekly library trip, I came across a new (to us) book that features diverse familiesFamilies by Ann Morris.

It struck me as a little advanced for a three year old, but I thought I might as well put it in our mix, along with the six books about cars and Miles’ current favorite, When Sophie Gets Angry.

Crouched on the library floor, I leafed through the book to see if it had any gay families. The book was published in 2000, so I wasn’t particularly hopeful.

But wait, toward the end of the book, on page 26, it looks very much like a lesbian couple with a daughter. What do you think?

Once we got home, I noticed a helpful index with captions describing the families.

Page 26 is missing. It’s the only page not described in the index. Was the author or publisher afraid the book would be censored if it had an explicit description?

This experience is emblematic of my quest to find books to help Miles begin to understand our family and see himself reflected in the world around him.

I’ve spent a lot of time browsing books and lists of recommended books for diverse families and gay parents. There’s just not much available, and what is available often feels overly pedantic, outdated, polluted by homophobia, or not preschool appropriate.

I’m realistic about the fact that the overall number of gay parents compared to not-gay parents is very small, but I know anecdotally and from census reports that the number of gay couples with kids is growing.

So why can I find only two or three books with depictions of gay families that are also appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers? Isn’t there a growing market for these books, including among non-gay families whose kids increasingly know gay families?

Another frustration: around 80-85% of the age-appropriate books we come across feature mothers as the prominent—and often exclusive—figures in the lives of their kids.

On the one hand, the vast majority of kids grow up with a mom and a dad as the foundation of their lives, even if both of those parents aren’t present. And, in hetero unions, moms are still doing the lion’s share of nurturing and care taking.

On the other hand, the fact that so many children’s books still feature moms as the exclusive figure in their lives seems kind of gross to me. Often when fathers are featured, it’s at best as secondary figures or worse, dysfunctional ones.

When my partner and I decided to have a family, we knew we’d often feel like outsiders. We knew we would have to find strategies to compensate for this. Finding good books is one of them.

Here’s what I need from toddler/preschool books:

1) more representations of diverse families that are incidental and not overly pedantic;

2) main characters who have gay or lesbian parents without the book having to be about Gay or Diversity;

3) more books that feature balanced heterosexual parenting.

In addition to some homebrew books, like Miles’ adoption life book and a lovely book about our family made by a friend, here are the books we rely on:

Everywhere Babies – written by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee

This board book, which Miles has loved since he was less than one year old, is the way of the future. It’s not ostensibly about diverse families. It’s just about being a baby, with super swell illustrations of lots of different family configurations. (Marla Frazee has some other books with really terrific illustrations too, like All the World and Roller Coaster, with incidental racial, age, and family diversity.)

The Family Book – written & illustrated by Todd Parr

This book introduces the concept of family and its different configurations to toddlers with colorful, goofy illustrations. It’s been a very useful way to talk about the meaning of family with Miles. It mixes in pages like, “Some families have two moms” or “Some families are different colors,” with pages like, “Some families look like their pets.”

Daddy, Papa, and Me / Mommy, Mama and Me – written by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson

Two board books with simple text that feature, respectively, one gay and one lesbian family doing fun things together. (My mom found this book at a Borders in Toledo, Ohio and also bought the lesbian one for Gretchen and Jill.) After wading through lots of crap, I can’t explain how nice it was to discover this book and put it in Miles’ rotation.

Tango Makes Three is okay but not great. Sometimes Miles will sit through it, but it’s kind of clunky and has too much text for his attention span.

Several books included on lists for gay families were written in the early 1990’s. Some of them are out of print and not available through my local library system. I’ve read a few others, and you can tell they were written two decades ago, which is fortunately a l-o-n-g time in the history of cultural change on gay issues.

For example, there are a few books about men (neighbors or uncles, as far as I can tell) who are dying or have died of AIDS. At least one book tackles the subject of “daddy’s roommate.” A few books on these lists are about gender-noncomforming kids. These books have (and had) their value, but they’re not books about kids being raised by gay parents. Most of them are also written for slightly older kids.

This list had a few titles I hadn’t seen before, but they don’t appear to be widely available in print. I was able to reserve A Tale of Two Daddies through my library system–and will update this post if it’s good. Amazing Mommies looks interesting but is only available on a Kindle.

If you know about any good books I’ve overlooked, I’d love to hear about them. I’m hoping there will be new, positive books published in the next few years.

UPDATE: A Tale of Two Daddies is really sweet. After one read, Miles immediately said, “Again!” Since then, we’ve read it to him, at his request, about 30 times. I love that it models how little kids can respond to questions about their families from their friends. This one goes on the to-buy list.

UPDATE 2: I just read The Great Big Book of Families, written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Ros Asquith. It’s my new favorite book featuring diverse families. The illustrations are fun, attractive, and warm. Gay couples are front and center, as are families with adopted kids. The racial and ethnic diversity is rich and varied.

It’s a bit long for most toddlers but could easily be “read” like word books–skimming pages and talking about what you notice, rather than reading it as a linear narrative. It seems especially valuable for preschoolers. There are many layers so they can grow into it as they age.

Here’s one short review. It was published in April 2011.

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11 thoughts on “The dearth of good books for gay families

  1. Clara loves reading Daddy, Papa, and Me and she totally recognizes Miles’ family in that book and talks about it when we get it from the library. Todd Parr also has “The Daddy Book” and “The Mommy Book” that could represent some gay families as well.

  2. We were given this book Oh The Things Mommies Do!: What Could Be Better Than Having Two? as a gift and Otto really loves it. The first page features a family making pancakes for breakfast and one pancake ends up on a little dog’s head. Otto thinks this is the most hysterical thing ever. The book features a range of everyday activities that families do together and shows a range of different types of 2-mom families (multiracial, adopted kids, large families, small families, etc.) He also loves the Todd Parr books.

  3. Thanks for the suggestions. Jill, that was one I couldn’t get through the library. I rarely buy a book unless it’s Miles-tested or recommended by someone close–so I’ll be ordering it sometime soon.

  4. Pingback: Update on books for gay families, diverse families « Regular Midwesterners

  5. My daughter’s favorite bedtime book is another by Molly Bang (who wrote “When Sophie Gets Angry”) called “Ten, Nine, Eight.” It’s beautiful and soothing, and it features a Black father/daughter pair at bedtime. My kiddo wore out her paperback copy, which as you know is high toddler praise.

  6. We got Tale of Two Daddies from the library and it has been Clara’s favorite book for the past three weeks. We unfortunately had to return it today after a long fight at the book slot. Bonus, I think she understands how to use the word neither now because of it!

  7. It’s sweet to think of Clara reading that book with you, Danette. Thanks for letting me know you guys liked it!

    Also, somewhat belated, I wanted to let Joey and Gator know we finally had a chance to check out “Ten, Nine, Eight” and “Mister Seahorse.” Those are keepers too. Thanks for the suggestions.

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