Some perfect books for same-gender parents.
Of course, my sailor friends are much more than just sailors, and my artist friends are much more than just artists. And “Little Toot” has been Dave for nearly forty years now. But those details are important aspects of who they are, and especially in the case of the sailing pair, those topics are going to be integral parts of their children’s lives, too.
So what books to give to a same-gender couple who is welcoming a new baby?
Let’s state the obvious first. The same-gender couple is far more than their sexuality, just as the sailors are more than their boat. But at the same time, any child’s parenting situation is a definite part of who he or she is. (Face it, when you’re a little baby, you can hardly go anywhere without at least one parent tagging along.) If your parents are same-gender, that’s part of your identity from day one, especially in a society that still makes a big deal—often negatively—out of such things.
There are a few books out there that are specifically directed at families with same-gender parents. Arguably the most famous one is “Heather has Two Mommies,” by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Diana Souza. (I am a big fan of Lesléa Newman’s writing and have been for a long time, long before my book-purchasing tastes ran toward children’s books.) “Heather Has Two Mommies” is a lovely book, as generations of children (and their parents) can tell you.
Another on-its-way-to-classic status is “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole. That’s about two male penguins who hatch an egg together. (It’s based on a true story, and if you have a few minutes to kill you can eavesdrop on a lively conversation about the sexual proclivities of penguins in the comments section of the amazon.com listing.)
In fact, there are a number of same-gender-parent children’s books out there. And there is inarguably a place for them, not only for children who delight at seeing their own situation played out on the pages of a book, but for any child. The blank slates that babies are, it’s good to have books out there that explain different animals, different moments in history, different seasons, different families, and people with different interests and loves.
But what’s also worthwhile is to see depictions of everyday life that pass without comment. Books in which the main character’s race, or gender, or parental status is of no more importance to the plot than his or her hair color.
Such incidental treatment of differences, over time, has the power to do no less than shape a worldview—a worldview in which different sorts of life situations are no big deal.
That’s why, in addition to books like Leslea Newman’s (she’s done a couple other children’s books about same-sex parents, as well), I have a few stand-by books that make great new-baby gifts for same-sex parents. (They are also, for the reasons discussed above, terrific books that make great gifts for any child.) These are books are about same-gender characters who have loving relationships. Are they sexual relationships? Well, it’s pretty icky to assign sexual anything to imaginary characters (witness the reaction to Jerry Falwell’s charge that “Tinky-Winky is gay”), and I do not know the personal or political leanings of either of these two authors. Nor do said leanings interest me all that much. What I do know is that these books feature pairs of same-gender creatures who love and nurture one another. Any child could recognize the love and commitment depicted in these books, and the recognition may touch a deeper level in children of same-sex parents. Either way, they are charming depictions of loving couples. And that’s good for everyone to see.
Holly Hobbie’s Toot and Puddle series: Yes, thatHolly Hobbie, whose name is forever linked in the minds of countless Gen-Xers with those homespun, bonnet-and-boot wearing little girls in profile we loved in our youth. She’s still writing, and her Toot and Puddle series is absolutely one of the best current picture-books series out there.
Toot and Puddle are two pigs. They are both male, and they live together in a picturesque little place called Woodcock Pocket. Toot and Puddle’s feelings for one another are so tender they could break your heart, especially when paired with Hobbie’s unparalleled illustrations. In “You are My Sunshine,” Toot has a case of the blues, and Puddle and their bird-friend Tulip try everything they can think of to cheer him up. In “Top of the World,” Toot goes for a walk and ends up on an around-the-globe adventure. Puddle follows him, and knows him so well that he’s able to guess his every move, meeting up with him in Provence.
Leo Leonni’s Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse and A Color of His Own: Both of these books feature a main character who is searching for something. In the first case, Alexander, a mouse, is searching for a companion. Alexander finds Willy, a wind-up mouse who is a beloved toy. Alexander wishes he could be a beloved toy as well, but then makes a magical wish that Willy could be real. The wish is granted, and the two mice live happily ever after.
In “A Color of His Own,” a chameleon is searching for his own color. To his dismay, chameleon learns that since his color changes with every surface he’s on, he is unable to stay one color, and so he doesn’t have a color that’s his own. An older, wiser (male) chameleon points out that if the two stay together, they will always be the same color as one another. And they do, and they are, happily.
These are simple stories, perfect for little ones. And the art is simply gorgeous—Hobbie and Lionni are masters of their craft. That makes these go-to baby gifts for just about any parent.
But for same-gender parents, these lovely books offer a subtle message: two people (or pigs or mice or chameleons) who love one another are the two best parents any lucky baby could have.
End of story.
Gramatky, Hardie. Little Toot. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1939. Print.
Hobbie, Holly. Toot & Puddle: Top of the World. Boston: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2002. Print.
Hobbie, Holly. Toot and Puddle: You Are My Sunshine. Boston: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 1999. Print.
Lionni, Leo. A Color of His Own. New York: Pantheon, 1975. Print.
Lionni, Leo. Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse. New York: Pantheon, 1969. Print.
Newman, Lesléa, and Diana Souza. Heather Has Two Mommies. Los Angeles: Alyson Wonderland, 2000. Print.
Richardson, Justin, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole. And Tango Makes Three. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2005. Print.