My mother is the only straight child in her family. I have two supremely wonderful gay aunts and a gay uncle who we lost far too soon to AIDS. Despite the fact that I spent my childhood in a famously progressive city in a famously progressive country, I grew up with the same narrative of love and gender as everybody else: Ken doll meets Barbie doll and they live happily ever after in their pink townhouse (with Barbie’s deadbeat sister, Skipper, of course).
Back then, we were different. And even post “Philadelphia” in a nation that prides itself on social tolerance, there was no consensus on how to feel about different. So my parents, wading around in unfamiliar waters, insulated us—introducing beloved partners as “friends” and describing terminal illness as a “stomach thing.” I read the story about the Prince and the Princess while, unbeknownst to me, the people I loved tried to re-write it. People were scared. Some people are STILL scared.
Love is love and gender is more than a collection of body parts. I know these things in my bones. I want my children to know them too—right from the beginning. While perhaps easier than ever to help children celebrate and understand the many different types of love and identity that exist in the world we share, it is still more difficult than it should be.
There are people who work hard to ensure that children are exclusively presented with typical heteronormative narratives. People fight to keep books with LGBTQ themes out of the small hands that need them the most. It is my sincere belief and hope that those people are failing. Plenty of wonderful, thoughtful, and educational books exist that convey a message of love and equality for all of us. I’ve put together a list some of our favorites:
Jacob’s New Dress
Sara and Ian Hoffman
Jacob is a boy who doesn’t identify with traditional gender norms. He loves playing dress up, especially when he gets to be a princess. After some convincing, his initially hesitant parents help him create a special dress that he can wear to school. A classmate begins to tease him, but Jacob feels strong and confident in his dress and remains undeterred.
And Tango Makes Three
Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Based on a true story, “And Tango Makes Three” chronicles the story of male penguin couple, Roy and Silo, as they are given an egg to raise as their own. It has won a slew of awards and ALL of my tears. It is a fantastic representation of same sex parenthood. Also? Penguins.
The Family Book
Actually? Pretty much everything by Todd Parr.
Todd Parr has long been a favorite children’s author in our house. His beautifully illustrated, colorful body of work celebrates empathy, integrity, and diversity while maintaining a kiddo-approved sense of silly. By showcasing various domestic models and the commonalities they share, The Family Book conveys to young readers that “there are lots of different ways to be a family.”
Also, check out Parr’s “It’s Okay to be Different” and “The Peace Book” for more of those good, fuzzy feels.
Heather has Two Mommies
Originally published in 1989, “Heather has Two Mommies” is widely regarded as the first children’s book to depict lesbian relationships. When Heather goes to school for the first time, a classmate asks her what her daddy does for a living. She replies that she doesn’t have a daddy. After the interaction, the teacher asks the children to draw pictures of their families, and the children discover that everybody’s family looks different.
King & King
Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
King and King is story of an overbearing queen mother trying to marry off her son so he can assume the throne and she can retire. She invites a cast of wacky princesses from all over the world to woo her son, but he remains unimpressed. Until Princess Madeleine walks in, and he falls in love instantly….with her brother Prince Lee.
The sequel King & King & Family is also a great read
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress
This book is excellent, not only for its depiction of Morris, a child who does not conform to typical gender norms, but also for it’s heartbreaking representation of bullying. Morris is ostracized and teased by his classmates for wearing a beloved tangerine dress. When his peers don’t let him play in their spaceship, he uses his imagination and triumphs.
My New Mommy
Written by transgender mother Lilly Mossiano to provide a resource to her own daughter while undergoing transition, the story is written from the perspective of four year old Violet, as her father goes through male to female gender reassignment surgery. The story covers the basic steps and emotional and physical changes that occur during transition in a voice that young children will appreciate and understand.
Also available is Mossiano’s My New Daddy
Michael Willhoite’s seminal contribution to LGBTQ kid lit is about a divorced father living with his son and his partner, Frank. The book follows the boy through the happenings of daily life with his father and Frank as they live together as a family. My favorite line comes from the boy’s mother at the end of the book. “Gay is just one more kind of love, and love is the best kind of happiness.”
Worm Loves Worm
J. J. Austrian
You’re invited to a splendid invertebrate wedding in this adorable buggy story! Worm and worm want to be married, but who will wear the tux and who will wear the white dress? They are, after all, simultaneous hermaphrodites, dontcha know? With help from their friends, they decide it doesn’t matter who wears what. All that matters is that worm loves worm.
What Makes a Baby
Cory Silverberg is a rock star of a sex educator. He’s managed to create a book that provides a truly inclusive answer to my child’s favorite question: where do babies come from? The book uses scientific terms like sperm and egg (which, as a parent, I appreciate), but doesn’t feature illustrations of gender specific people or body parts. There are lots of different ways to have a baby today. This book leaves plenty of space for parents and children to engage in conversations about birth, conception, and family.