From Kissing to. . .

Through the luck of the library hold list draw I went from reading an ARC of Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan to a library copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I think I had tears in my eyes the entire time I read these books back to back.

twoboysTwo Boys Kissing a a teen novel about a couple of gay teens trying to win the world record for the longest kiss.  In the hands of David Levithan, one of my personal favorite YA writers, the story becomes about more than winning a record or about making a statement about gay rights.  He uses an unusual narrator to tell a larger story.  Our storyteller is an omniscient view from the collective voice of gay men who have passed.  They watch the characters being so open with their sexuality and speak of their experiences before being out was okay, before AIDS was a thing.  It was very powerful, and it is easily one of my favorite books of the year.

tellthewolvesimhomeThen I picked up Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the library.  I’d been waiting for the book for months, and it seemed serendipitous that it arrived in my hands when it did.  This book is set in the 1980’s, when AIDS was just beginning to be a thing.  June’s uncle whose relationship to the family is strained because he was gay has just died, and June is devastated.  She tries to understand the choices her family made.  But it’s hard to make sense of why we choose to cut off the ones we love the most when they make choices we don’t understand.

I was reminded of these words from the collective narrator of Two Boys Kissing (quoted from ARC):

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home.  So many of us had to leave.  But every single one of us wishes we hadn’t had to.  Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t had to leave the other one behind.  Every single one of us would have loved to have been loved unconditionally by our parents.”

It’s gotten better for LGBT kids, I think.  I hope.  But I know that there are still some who have to deal with families who want nothing to do with them.  It breaks my heart to think about the people I know personally who are separated from their families for reasons like this.

Stories like these make me hug my daughter tightly and promise to love her no matter what.  I hope she knows that she can make different choices than the ones I made without fear of losing us.  We will always act like her family.

Find Two Boys Kissing at your library or buy it from an indie bookstore.  Then you’ll probably want to do the same for Tell the Wolves I’m Homelibrary or indie bookstore.

Now Available: October Mourning

Leslea Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies, happened to be a guest speaker for the Gay Awareness Week celebration on the University of Wyoming campus in October of 1998.  In horrible coincidence, that was the week that Matthew Shepard was killed as a victim of a hate crime.  Now all these years later, Newman has written about her connection to this incident in an affecting book of poems: October Mourning.

She wrote on the Huffington Post:

“It is my wish that October Mourning will carry that message of hope, born from a horrific act of violence, to our youth. Those entering college this fall were only four years old when Matt Shepard was murdered. Those starting high school were only infants. But Matt’s legacy will live on, and I intend October Mourning to be a vehicle for that legacy, to help our youth remember the lesson of his life and death: That all of us, no matter how old, no matter where we live, deserve to be free to be who we are. Hatred ended Matt’s life, but love can unite us.”

Amen.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links. A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

Families like Zach’s

This video of Zach Wahls, who was raised by two moms, speaking out about gay marriage has been going around Facebook and Twitter again.  I imagine you’ve seen it already, but if you haven’t, please take the time to listen to this well spoken young man’s words.

You might also be interested in this bibliography I made last year featuring books for kids and teens about LGBT families.  Please feel free to download and share the bibliography with anyone who might appreciate it.  I’m happy to say that the list already needs to be updated.  Here are a few more books for kids and teens that feature LGBT families:

  • Vanita Oeschlager has two books to choose from on this subject.  A Tale of Two Mommies has a boy recounting the ways his moms are different from each other.  It clearly shows how his family isn’t that different from any other.  A Tale of Two Daddies offers the same look at a different family make-up.  Both are reassuring picture books for younger kids.
  • If you are looking for something subtle, you might try Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever by Julianne Moore.  Now, I know some people have strong opinions on books by celebrity authors, but this book might be of interest for the fact that one of the characters has two moms.  It is a very brief mention, but it not a big deal at all.  Just one aspect of the character’s life.
  • For older readers, I have another celebrity authored title, Playground by 50 Cent. It is aimed at middle schoolers, and it isn’t revealed until well into the book–as the main character becomes okay with it–that the mom’s friend Evelyn is more than a friend.  The book also takes on bullying from the bully’s perspective, and it will probably appeal to kids with an interest in gritty urban fiction.
  • Teen readers might be interested in Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson, which is about a teen in a family with two moms and her relationship with the foster child they take in.  You can download the first five chapters on the author’s web site.

Feel free to share your favorite books featuring LGBT families in the comments. I’d love to have more to add to my list!

What a family looks like

Recently, I was researching kids’ books for National Pet Month, and I came across Let’s Get a Pup!”, Said Kate by Bob Graham, which is a cute story of a family adopting a dog from a shelter.  What struck me as interesting about the book, though, wasn’t mentioned in the text.  If you look closely at the cover, you can see that the parents in the book are not the usual picture book parents.  The dad has a tattoo on his arm, and the mom has a nose ring.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it is pretty rare to see parents like this in a picture book.

Since most people my little one comes into contact with have tattoos or piercings or both (not to mention long hair on men or non-natural colored hair on both genders), I was tickled to see these things presented as a normal (not even worthy of mention) aspect of family life.  This is what my family looks like, after all.

Maybe your family looks like the mixed race family in Norton Juster’s Hello, Goodbye Window, which included a mixed race family in the illustrations without making it an issue book about a mixed race family.

Or maybe one of the families in Monday is One Day looks like yours. It features several different families as they count the days until the working parent(s) can stay at home with their family.  The illustrations show families of all sorts, including a family with two dads, as they go about their lives until the weekend comes.  In our family, we discuss the days as “work days” or “hang out days” each night as I put Ladybug to sleep.  I am excited to share this book with her.

These books are great ways to show kids examples of diversity without making a big deal about it.  It isn’t the main point, but it’s there.  Sometimes that’s all you need.

Of course, there are also times when you may want to be more direct about family diversity.  In light of the fact that  opinions are still divided on GLBT families according to a recent Pew Research Center study and the Marriage Amendment being put to a vote in Minnesota in 2012, I would say that it is time to be direct about our support for all families.  For adults that may mean becoming an informed voter.

Family Book Great Big Book of FamiliesFor our kids, it means talking.  Ask them questions to see what they have noticed or what they have assumed. What do they think of when they think of a family?  What kinds of families do they see in their communities?  You can use books like Todd Parr’s The Family Book or Mary Hoffman’s Great Big Book of Families. Both of these books show many ways families can be different from their houses or pets to celebrations in addition to the variety of people that can make up a family, including GLBT families.  This teacher’s guide from WelcomingSchools.org is a great resource for parents that builds on the ideas in the books.

Diversity is about more than just race.  It is as important to open a discussion with our kids  about family diversity as much as it is to talk about racial diversity.   This article on PBS Parents encourages parents to talk about diversity with their kids.  While the focus is on cultural/racial differences, I think the advice applies to family diversity as well:

“Teaching our children to accept differences may require that we use the power of the internet to learn about differences, that we seek out cultural activities that are out of our community and explore the strength and value in diversity. It is not enough to simply visit cultural events, eat ethnic foods and thus learn about differences from a voyeuristic point of view. Instead, we must make a deliberate effort to get out of the familiar and show our children we mean it. Accepting differences should be how we live our lives.”

We can help create a future in which differences are celebrated rather than feared or shunned by sharing these books with our kids.  We can also seek out community events that celebrate diversity.  Start by attending the Twin Cities Pride Festival this weekend (June 25th & 26th 2011).  You can even join the parade on Sunday with Minnesotans United for All Families to show your support.   Hope to see you there!