In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Gay marriage, political and non-political

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Visiting my parents last week in Manhattan, the girls and I stopped in at Bank Street Bookstore, one of our favorite independent children's bookstores anywhere.  Imagine my surprise when the first display to hit my eyes as I walked in the door was a selection of books about gay marriage and families with gay parents!  Maybe there's something in the air.

The display included a few of the books you've recently written about: And Tango Makes Three, Donovan's Big Day, King and King, and Monday is One Day, which I hadn't seen before, but enjoyed.

In the same vein of books aiming to be inclusive of all different kinds of families, there was also The Great Big Book of Families, by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by cartoonist Ros Asquith.  On each two-page spread, this book focuses on a subject -- holidays, where people live, pets, who makes up a family -- and then provides text and drawings to illustrate as many options as possible.  It's nicely multicultural, and includes families with gay parents.  On skimming, I found the text a little didactic, but the overall message of inclusiveness was nice.

Then there were two books which took on the subject of gay marriage in different ways, each beginning with a child's negative reaction, and ending happily, one in a totally non-political context, and one which makes it clear that the fight for gay marriage is a civil rights issue.

In Uncle Bobby's Wedding,by Sarah S. Brannan, the characters are all anthropomorphized guinea pigs.  Chloe has a close relationship with her Uncle Bobby (some sweet scenes of them playing together outdoors), and is upset when she learns he's getting married.  The nice thing about the book is that the gender of Uncle Bobby's fiance, Jamie, is never the issue, and in fact isn't remarked on at all.  The family is clearly supportive of the wedding, and Chloe's reaction is due entirely to her worry that she won't have as close a relationship to Bobby once he has a husband.  Before the wedding, Bobby and Jamie spend quality time together with Chloe, and she comes to love him, too.  There's a nice line about the two of them planning to have kids of their own, but still having a special relationship with Chloe.  Chloe demands to be their flower girl, and the wedding is a success.

Operation Marriage, by Cynthia Chin-Lee, is set in California in the few months in 2008 when same-sex marriage was legal there, just before the passage of Proposition 8.  It's based on a true story about a pair of kids -- the older sister, Alex, narrates the book -- who push their two moms to get married legally amid the campaigning for and against Prop. 8.  Alex's best friend, Zach, tells her he can't be friends with her anymore because her parents aren't really married, and his father says that two women can't be married.  Alex and her brother Nicky decide that the way to fix this is to make their moms' union legal, and they go home and begin "Operation Marriage" to encourage Mama Kathy and Mama Lee to marry under California law: they play the wedding march, and make a wedding program to give their mothers.  The moms are very sweet -- their initial reaction is to say, but of course we're married, and break out the videos of their commitment ceremony.  After some talking, however, they're convinced.  Alex and Nicky get new wedding clothes, and the family has a small, warm, civil ceremony.  Even after Prop. 8 is passed, Alex feels like her mothers are truly married.  And Zach and his mom show up at the door to apologize for letting the issue divide the friends.  It's a nice combination of realistic, political, and hopeful.  Reading it, I felt like it would make a good historical picture book in the future, dramatizing the last throes of the fight against marriage rights for all.  Let's hope so.

Love, Annie

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