I was in middle school when the controversy over the children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies reached its peak, and it became a favorite insult for my classmates to hurl at me — first, because my real life name is Heather; and second, because I was a pretty dykey 11-year-old. A lot has changed in the twenty years since since the book was first published (gay marriage, for example), but many things remain the same: I’m now a pretty dykey 30-year-old, and there are still very few children’s books for same-sex families.
Publisher’s Weekly, however, suggests all that is about to change. This week Elizabeth Bluemle reviewed four new children’s books about same-sex families, two of which I rushed out and purchased.
Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude — by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Calef Brown — tells the story of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. The title is a play on Stein’s famous “rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” quote from Sacred Emily, as well as a way to explain Stein’s relationship with Toklas.
Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude.
And Alice is Alice.
And Gertrude and Alice are Gertrude and Alice.
Well it’s like this. You walk up the stairs, and there they are. They are sitting in chairs
and there they are….
The thing that sets Gertrude apart is that it doesn’t make an issue out of Stein’s sexual orientation. Just like Gertrude and Alice, it simply is. The prose is a magical emulation of Stein’s own writing style, with kid-friendly lyrical syncopation.
Mommy, Mama, and Me and its brother book, Daddy, Papa, and Me, come from the pen of Lesléa Newman (of Heather Has Two Mommies fame). Like Gertrude, the book handles same-sex couples the way typical children’s books handle heterosexual couples. There’s no explanation that the child’s parents are lesbians. It’s just a toddler enjoying the day with his moms. They go to the park, have book time, bath time and bedtime. “Mommy gently combs my hair, Mama rocks me in her chair.”
Rhyming is one of the earliest literary techniques used to engage children. (And unlike Heather Has Two Mommies, this book doesn’t need a word to rhyme with insemination.)
Everyone likes to see their lives mirrored back to them in some way, and there’s nothing like the first time you open a book and find yourself. It’s something kids with lesbian and gay parents have had to live without for far too long. Mommy, Mama, and Me changes that. Carol Thompson‘s illustrations are bright and warm. And as a bonus, the moms are an interracial couple!
I hope Bluemle is right, and this is just the beginning of a publishing trend that will include more gay-friendly books for young readers, and maybe a Ramona with two moms as well.
For now it’s exciting to know I can give my two-year-old nephew a book that reflects my life — not that it really matters to him. Aunt Heather is Aunt Heather is Aunt Heather is Aunt Heather. She buys him every thing he never thought to ask for — including really queer children’s books.