Same-Sex Parents: A New Theme in Kid's Books

Demand is on the rise for children's books depicting families headed by same-sex parents. Nathalie op de Beeck, an assistant professor at Illinois State University, tells Jennifer Ludden about the trend. She recently wrote about gay-themed children's books for Publishers Weekly.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

As we were working on the story about the hate crimes debate, I picked up a new children's book that came to our office. It's a cute tale about penguins in New York's Central Park Zoo and how one couple hatches a baby penguin. As I flipped through, I realized that the penguin couple was male. The zookeeper had sneaked an egg into their nest. It's actually a true story. The book is called "And Tango Makes Three" and it's one of many written for children with same-sex parents. Reviewer Nathalie op de Beeck has an article on this literary trend for Publishers Weekly and she joins us.

Welcome.

Ms. NATHALIE OP DE BEECK (Reviewer): Hi, there.

LUDDEN: When did these books begin appearing?

Ms. OP DE BEECK: It goes back quite a ways. I mean, the mother of all or two mothers of all books about same-sex parents of children is "Heather Has Two Mommies," which was self-published originally back in I think 1988 by Leslea Newman. And, you know, there have been quite a few since then. I mean, it's a lot of them coming out of Alyson Publications which really led the move toward that kind of inclusion in picture books.

LUDDEN: When you say a lot, I mean, give me some sense. How many?

Ms. OP DE BEECK: There are books like "Daddy's Roommate" and "Daddy's Wedding" by Michael Willhoite, books like "Gloria Goes to Gay Pride" and there are kind of books about the parents taking their child to the Gay pride parade or concerning, like, the issue of having--I mean, turning into an issue as having same-sex parents for instance. You know, this kind of trend continued through the '90s, slowly gathering steam, but I think recently, I guess it's been on the radar because of the book "King & King" and follow-up "King & King & Family" which are by two Dutch authors, Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland and...

LUDDEN: Published in the US?

Ms. OP DE BEECK: Yes. So are these books any good?

LUDDEN: "King & King" and "King & King & Family" are really terrific. I mean, they're very lighthearted. I mean, "King & King" is a story of a prince who is looking for a mate. The queen really wants him to get married and he meets a bunch of princesses and none of them quite suffice and he is sort of fatigued by the whole princess ritual until a princess comes with her brother, Prince Lee, and he looks at Prince Lee and Prince Lee looked at him and they said, `What a wonderful prince.' So "King & King" is kind of a twist ending on what you expect to happen, and so it's very cheerful and it presents the romance in a very positive way.

LUDDEN: So it's a charming tale. I mean, are you saying that these books have come a long way? I mean, the first one you mentioned in '88 was self-published. Now they're finding publishers...

Ms. OP DE BEECK: Right.

LUDDEN: ...or is it a better genre?

Ms. OP DE BEECK: Yeah. Now things are really beginning to be acknowledged and thought out by major publishers. For instance, a new book by Nancy Garden called "Molly's Family" which is about a little girl and her lesbian parents is a Giroux, Straus. There are also books coming out from Clarion, "A Fire Engine for Ruthie," which is actually about gender non-conformity. "Tango Makes Three"--that's Simon & Schuster, the book about the penguins. And so I think major publishing houses are really picking up on this.

LUDDEN: Well, is the market perhaps a growing number of gay and lesbian couples or are heterosexual couples also buying these books?

Ms. OP DE BEECK: Booksellers I've spoken to mention that there are lot more gay and lesbian couples coming into stores and asking for books and often not really finding that many books. There's still more demand than there is the supply, and, meanwhile, there are a lot of heterosexual families in general looking for books about diversity, whether it's gender or racial diversity in text. And so, yeah, it's seems that people of all walks of life are looking for books that show families that aren't just conventional, you know, mom and dad and 2.5 children and all that. You know, they're really beginning to seek inclusive books that some of these books can fill that.

LUDDEN: Because they have to explain this to their children.

Ms. OP DE BEECK: Yeah. I mean, there's just a better representation of the possibilities for what a family can be rather than saying that a family is one way or something unusual that becomes an issue. A lot of these books are trying to approach an alternative family not as a problem but actually just as a given in society the way that we live it now.

LUDDEN: Are there some books that aren't overtly about gay couples but convey a similar message? And I'm thinking of this series of Toot and Puddle, these sweet male pigs who live together.

Ms. OP DE BEECK: I think that in a lot of the picture books that are about families, people are starting to picture all sorts of different families. For instance, if they show an image of a child, that child might be with just a single parent. The child might be with mixed race parents. The child might be with two moms or two dads, with a mom and a dad. You know, so there are a lot of texts that are trying to be subtly inclusive that are just trying to suggest that there are all kinds of configurations that the family can come in. I think the demand seems to be for books that are not necessarily issue books but are books that accept and include all kinds of family structures.

LUDDEN: Nathalie op de Beeck has an article in the April 25th issue of Publishers Weekly titled Diversity Breeds Controversy.

Thank you so much.

Ms. OP DE BEECK: Thank you very much.

LUDDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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