Monday, August 15, 2011

Where are the Gay Parents in Children’s Literature?

A few weeks ago, I was on a tweet chat with Jonathan Arnston, Heather Kelly, and a few other tweeps. We were talking about clichés in young adult and middle grade novels. One thing we decided was not a cliché is the presence of gay parents in children's books. 

Off the top of your head, can you name any? One? Each of us had only had one or two that occurred to us, so we decided to go in search of how children's books portray same sex parents. I was hoping to find some that portrayed non-traditional marriage as a fact of life, not as an “issue.” Happy marriages. Normal marriages. We decided to devote a week to spotlighting a few of the books we discovered.

I read four books. BETWEEN MOM AND JO by Julie Anne Peters (YA), EARTHSHINE by Theresa Nelson (MG), MOMMA, MAMA AND ME by Leslea Newman (a board book), and IN OUR MOTHERS’ HOUSE by Patricia Polocca (a longer picture book). 

The series will run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next two weeks.

Thanks to my friend Gary Fryns, we have a book list. Keep in mind, I have not read all of these books, just pass them along as a reference.

Middle Grade/Young Adult

The Eagle Kite, by Paula Fox (Orchard)
Earthshine, by Theresa Nelson (Orchard)
Jack, by A.M. Homes (Random House/Vintage)
Out of the Shadows, by Sue Hines (Avon)
Box Girl by Sarah Withrow
Living in Secret by Cristina Salat
Between Mom and Jo by Julie Ann Peters
PEARL by Jo Knowles

Picture books:

A PET OF MY OWN by Ursula Ferro.
Donovan's Big Day by Lesléa Newman
Frank and Hank Get Hitched by R.A. Carpenter
A tale of two daddies by Vanita Oelschlager
Daddy, Papa, and me by Leslea Newman
Is your family like mine? by Lois Abramchik
Two Daddies and Me by Robbi Anne Packard
Asha's mums by Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse
A smile so big by Kathleen Abel
best colors by Eric Hoffman
King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
And Tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Antonio's card by Rigoberto Gonzalez
In our mothers' house by Patricia Polacco
MOMMA, MAMA, AND ME by Lesléa Newman and Carol Thompson
MONDAY IS ONE DAY by Arthur Levine and Julian Hector 
Patricia Sarles has a great resource if you're looking for more picture books about the experience of knowing or having a gay parent, family member or friend.

Another great resource is GayYA, a blog about GLBT characters and pairings in Children’s Literature. The focus is not gay parents, but they have a book list if you’re looking for books with characters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.

Update: New Resource. Lee Wind's Blog: I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read? Again, sort of gets away from the specificity of parents, but Lee has a lot of great resources for reading material for anyone interested in reading about GLBT characters in Children's Literature.

If anyone has anything to contribute, please feel free to mention other titles in the comments, and I'll update my list. Also, if you're interested in joining and have a book or two (or more) that you'd like to feature, you may email Jon at jonarntson AT gmail DOT com or send a Twitter message to @JonathonArntson.


Laura Pauling said...

I think like with other kinds of characters gay parents should be an organic part of the story, not there to make a point. I think right now, many people, myself included, have no idea what it would be like to have gay parents, so I don't try to write something I would probably screw up. B/c then it would become a cliche, just like the gay character has on many tv shows. But that seems to be getting better.

Kristine Asselin said...

I agree, Laura. Unfortunately in many of the books I looked at, it WAS the point of the story. I'd love to see a gay parent as just as normal and (often) invisible part of the story as straight parents are in YA and MG.

In both novels I read, the parents were portrayed as very real people, not cliches. My reviews will appear this week and next.

Jonathon Arntson said...

I agree with Laura, but I also think it's important that a writer who has lived with gay parents feel confident enough to share their story or some version of it. By having these types of conversations, we are condoning the existence of such topics and therefore making them easier to write about.

KateMessner said...

The book I'm revising right now has a main character with gay parents - it's not the point of the story or a big deal of any sort - it's just who she is. And in Amy Ignatow's THE POPULARITY PAPERS, one of the two main characters has two dads - it's handled in a similar way - no big deal, no drama - just part of the character's life.

Kristine Asselin said...

Kate--thanks so much for sharing that! I'll add Amy's book to our list. You know I love your books, so I'll be waiting to read your current WIP!

Jonathon Arntson said...

Thanks Kate for the insights! I love the title of Amy's book.

MG Higgins said...

I'm intrigued by the idea of writing about gay parents as part of the story without having had gay parents. The book that always comes to mind on the subject of inserting your mind into something you aren't is MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA by Arthur Golden. As long as you do your research, and are conscious of NOT treating the topic as a cliche, is it okay?

Kristine Asselin said...

Melissa, I think so. I think with the proper research, empathy, and dignity--a writer can write about any way of life with respect and accuracy.

Heather Kelly said...

I agree with Laura, about wanting to read books where it is just normal to have gay parents a part of the background story.

I disagree that we can't write what we don't know--I think it just takes interest and research, like everything else.

I'm excited to read Kate's book someday! Woo-hoo!!

I am also interested to see what is the impact shows like Glee, Modern Family, and Happy Endings (which features a gay character who isn't a stereotypically gay character). Hopefully gay parents will filter into mainstream kidlit.

I also wonder if Ellen Wittlinger has written any ya with gay parents in it--she's done so much in the genre.

Sorry I hijacked your comment section!! I guess I have some things to say. :)

Lee Wind said...

YAY! Delighted you're spotlighting these books and drawing attention to the issue of how we need MORE books with GLBTQ characters! It's very much what I'm talking about to everyone in the kid lit world...

Kristine Asselin said...

Thanks Lee! I love your blog (great pic w/ Judy Blume, BTW). I'm going to add your URL to my resource list!

Anonymous said...

Jo Knowles PEARL has a gay parent and the conflict between that parent and a grandparent is crucial to the plot, but not the only thing that is going on by any means. It's a wonderful book and one I recommend highly.

The novel I am now subbing includes gay parents, but they aren't a huge deal. I do think that what sort of element gay parents play in a story depends hugely on where it is set, in very specific ways. We are a country very much divided over this at the moment, even as more and more of us are coming to accept gay marriage.

Thanks for raising the subject and for getting the word out about it. I'll be reading the comments with interest.

Bridget Heos said...

The picture book Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah Brannen is about a girl's uncles getting married. The point isn't that it's a same-sex marriage, but that the girl's favorite uncle is marrying. Will he still have time for her? The characters are all Guinea pigs, in wedding attire, obviously. It's super cute.

Bridget Heos said...

The picture book Monday is One Day, by Arthur Levine and Julian Hector, also comes to mine. The book features several families going through the work week, one with two dads. Great book.

Ru said...

I definitely don't want to be a thread-jacker, but I wouldn't especially include THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE on your list. (I only bring this up because you said you hadn't read all the books.) First, just as a technical matter, the main character doesn't have gay parents - he is being tutored by a gay neighbor so he can enter military academy.

Second, while I know reasonable minds can probably disagree, it is strongly implied that the 40-something neighbor (and authority figure) has a sexual encounter with the 14-year-old main character that he has been tutoring and counseling about his personal problems throughout the novel. (When I read it, that's exactly what I thought had happened, though I've since discovered that some people don't think so.) I think if you're looking for positive examples of gay parents/mentors, that one is a questionable selection.

(Love the blog, sorry to be such a random de-lurker.)

Kristine Asselin said...

Thanks WordsRmylife -- I've added PEARL to the list. Thanks!

Bridget--I've added those two picture books.

Ru--based on the technicality alone, I've taken MAN WITHOUT A FACE off my list. While it does portray a gay authority figure, I really wanted to focus on parents/guardians. Thanks for the heads up. And feel free to delurk anytime!

Phil said...

I've noticed YA books where the main character's dad leaves the mom for another man. Examples: Gossip Girl, The Break-Up Bible. Has anyone else noticed that?

Kristine Asselin said...

Hi Phil, thanks for commenting. I haven't read those books, so I can't comment. Anyone else?

Lori M. Lee said...

Wow, thanks for this list. I'll definitely check these out!

Kelly said...

Great job this week to you and Jon!

Christina Lee said...

Hi, popping over from Jon's blog! I would add LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR (it's YA--and sorry if it's been said already). Anyway, great topic!

Christina Lee said...

Gosh, I love hearing that, Kelly (GO YA BOOKS)!!