The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

Heather Has Two Commies – I mean, Mommies August 3, 2011

(Dumb title, sure, but one of them does have a No Nukes t-shirt.)

First of all, I just have to give mad props to author Leslea Newman for two things:

1) Writing this book in the first place – it took a lot of courage

2) Amending the book for a later addition that still gets the message across but removes the age-inappropriate specifics of artificial insemination and pregnancy that I think must have helped make the book as controversial as it became on first publishing.

I personally like that Heather Has Two Mommies features not just Heather and her moms but a range of family structures.

I do wish there were more books that featured gay parents. Tthe main fault of this book in my view is not that it talks about two moms, or even the old addition with the very explicit details of human reproduction, but that it has a mission. Not a point of view, a theme, but a mission. It knows it’s the only book about two moms, and it was written to Be That Book.

It tries to do everything in just one book – represent women in unconventional work roles, show happy kids with gay parents, present an inclusive range of family types that borders on the super-cheesy… Thus it tends to read like a lesson in being liberal more than a real story.


The Issue with Issue Books

Most books written “about” a kid’s issue – starting preschool, bullying, saying goodbye, using manners, getting a new sibling, divorce – tend to read like this – as thinly veiled instructional manuals that only pose as a story. Generated from the desire to teach a fact as opposed to a desire to express a truth, these books strain to achieve beauty, rhythm, humor, genuine emotion.

There’s something manipulative about this kind of story that I just plain don’t like. I don’t like it when a children’s book – or video, for that matter – tries to make hard things in life fun or easy with entertaining ploys to distract or trick the kid into brushing her teeth or going potty.

Yes, books teach us; most of what I know about the world came from novels (sometimes accurate, sometimes not). But don’t use a lame storyline, a bright shiny object, to attract attention and slip the medicine in while they’re not looking. For one thing, it doesn’t work. For another thing, it’s boring and it sucks to read.

Books That Teach That Work

On the other hand, books that are upfront about their educational intentions work. (Go figure.)

The series by Joy Wilt that includes You’re All Right explicitly set out to clue kids into their bodies, emotions – what it means to be a person, have accidents, make mistakes, and my kids love them. They’re long, but the comic-like artwork is fun, simple, and the concepts are clear, and good conversation-starters.

Most straightforward science books we have, too, tend to be involving.

Conclusion: Either write fiction or nonfiction – don’t write nonfiction and dress it up like fiction. It’s condescending. And kids can sniff that out, even when it’s coming from a book.


4 Responses to “Heather Has Two Commies – I mean, Mommies”

  1. Hello,

    This post is timely for me because my wife and I started a publishing company to produce books for children of gay parents. While most of the reception has been very good for our first picture book, we did get a thoughtful e-mail from someone who was actually disappointed that we didn’t talk more about our main character having two moms. We did include that in the title so that it would be easily identifiable, but we really intend to publish works that showcase having two moms or two dads as something that just is rather than it being an obstacle to overcome. The number of LGBT children’s books are growing, but just about all of them talk more about what it’s like to have two moms/dads vs. just a kid having kid issues (who happens to have same gender parents).

    I think there is a need for both. For some kids it may not be a problem at all and of course for others, it is an issue when it comes to other children teasing them.

    Thank you for your post.

    • Maiaoming Says:

      Hi, thanks for your comment! I should say, I love that you want to just show families as just being normal… We did recently find a two moms book that is about how great it is to have two moms, so now I’m wishing I’d included that in my post, because while it is about having two moms, it is great and totally works because it’s not trying to teach something so much as share the joy of something… Will have to review that one next. Good luck with your company – and if you would like to guest post on here or do any other kind of collaboration, I’d love it!

      • Mary Beth Says:

        Yes, as I was reading this I was thinking of that book: Oh The Things Mommies Can Do, What Could Be Better Than Having two. It’s awesome!

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