Several months ago a friend said to me, “I want to write a book for our children about a little girl with two moms…Because there just don’t seem to be any books about children of lesbian partners.” Several weeks before this comment, I had shared a cart of picture books featuring gays and lesbians at a SAFE SCHOOL conference, but when I asked participants to share books that had been important to them featuring gay and lesbian families and people, only a couple of books were recalled.
While there aren’t mountains of picture books, also known as “rainbow books,” featuring people from the LGBT community, there are some and I wondered why people who support LGBT rights didn’t know about these books. Hadn’t they looked for them in the public library, their child’s school library, or their local bookstore? Why was this genre under the radar for people who were obviously searching for these books? Here are a few answers to these questions:
1. There just aren’t many rainbow books (for our conversation, we mean inclusive of all gender and sexual orientations) in the public or school library or in bookstores to borrow or to buy.
2. Many of these books are out-of-print.
3. Many of these books are from small publishers whose books aren’t reviewed in the mainstream review literature. Therefore, librarians don’t know about them and if librarians do know about them, they may not be reviewed in approved review literature such as School Library Journal, Booklist, or Hornbook – three of the main library selection tools.
4. They are not written by well-known or award winning children’s authors.
5a. They are not illustrated by well-known or award winning children’s illustrators.
5b. Many of these books (by my observations) have little “curb” appeal and libraries and bookstores are reluctant to display titles that won’t “move.” Libraries and bookstores want to carry books that visually grab the audience and that the audience wants to pick up immediately because of either the title or the cover design. For young non-readers, it’s all about the cover design and our best illustrators know how to grab young readers with a great cover. It goes without saying that our finest authors and illustrators usually work for mainstream major publishers and lesser-known authors and illustrators are used by smaller presses with fewer resources to market their books.
6. The call for rainbow books is not part of our curriculum; therefore, schools and libraries are buying mostly books that fit into a curriculum unit.
7. Many rainbow books are only published in paperback and some schools and libraries have a policy of buying only hardback books which hold up better than paperbacks.
8. Many communities fear censorship and don’t want to buy materials they will have to fight for and then may have to remove from the shelves at a later time.
9. Some of these rainbow titles are more expensive than the “general” trade books.
10. Some of the titles have not been translated into English.
11. Some of these titles are available in only print or only electronically – seldom both formats are available.
So what’s the solution?
1. Ask your school and public librarians to start or expand the rainbow collection with well-reviewed books. Request titles for purchase if you know of titles that are not already in the collection. Don’t forget that some of these books are e-books.
2. Buy and give these titles as gifts for holidays and birthdays and not just to children of gay and lesbian families but children of all types of families. (Many are available on Amazon.com if not in your local bookstore.)
3. Read as many of these titles yourself as you can. Discuss with others the strong and weak points of the book.
4. Insist that rainbow families and gender non-conforming lifestyles become part of the curriculum in your school.
5. Support groups that make lists of rainbow books available to organizations and on the internet.
Below are my top favorite rainbow titles:
Rainbow Family Collection by Jaimie Nardoo. This is an excellent reference book with all you need to know about rainbow books.
It’s OK to be Different by Todd Paar. Any books by Todd Parr are sure to be great and will all advocate for caring and inclusion.
Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas. Collection of stories, poems, music and illustrations that affirm the value of all lifestyles.
Gender non-conforming books
Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie DePaola. Based on the author’s childhood with a father who wants him not to do “girl things” but to do “boy things” like playing ball.
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Feirstein. Elmer is terribly hurt after overhearing his father’s disappointment at his not being more like the other boy ducks. When the other ducks abandon Elmer’s father, it is Elmer who stands by his father.
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. William wants a doll but his father thinks he would be happier with a train and balls and bats. But William’s wise grandmother knows best!
Books with two mothers
Antonio’s Card by Rigoberto Gonzalez. At school, Antonio is to make a card for his mother, but with two mothers, how will he decide who receives the card without hurting the feelings of the other mother?
Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslea Newman. Simple story of a young girl showing activities she and her two mothers enjoy doing together.
Heather has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman. This was one of the very first books about same sex parents – probably not for the youngest reader.
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco. Marmee, Meema, and the kids are just like any other family on the block. They all love each other and have fun while growing up.
Books with two fathers
Daddy, Papa and Me by Leslea Newman. A board book showing the fun things a young boy and his two daddies enjoy doing together.
A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlanger. Two friends are playing and one asks the other which of her daddies is responsible for which family activities.
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell. Penguins Silo and Roy meet at the Central Park Zoo in New York and work together to raise an abandoned egg that hatches into Tango. Based on a true incident.
The Harvey Milk Story by Kari Krakow. A story about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in California.
Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude by Jonah Winter about Gertrude Stein
Uncle Andy’s: A Fabulous Visit with Andy Warhol and Uncle Andy’s Cats by James Warhol. Meet famous artist Andy Warhol
Rough Tough Charley by Verla Kay. Charley Parkhurst was a stagecoach driver -only Charley was a stagecoach driverette -proving that in the 1800’s a woman could do anything a man could do.
Award book lists
Rainbow Books from American Library Association’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Round Table listing commendable fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults (very few picture books).
Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Awards – Children and young adults are now included in the Stonewall Literature Awards lists which previously included only adult books. Award given by the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Round Table of America.