It wasn’t so long ago, a mere couple of decades in fact, when the very presence of gay picture books aimed specifically at children caused various tempests in various literary and social teapots. The most prominent of these “troublemakers” were Leslea Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies (1989) and Michael Willhoite’s Daddy’s Roommate (1991). These books raised controversy not merely because of their subject matter, i.e., same-sex relationships within the context of a family structure, but because they dared to treat this subject in an entirely positive light and with happy endings. Mere mention of these and other similar titles drove vociferous members of the religious right to their rhetorical gun-racks in a blind fury of irrational indignation, and once again we were warned of the impending demise of Christendom. (This outrage erupted despite the fact that neither of these books, nor any of the other more prominent children’s titles, of course, featured anything remotely explicitly sexual but were instead gentle portraits of staid and stable domestic life shared by same-sex couples.)
Time, however, has a way of changing things. Thanks to trailblazers such as Newman and Willhoite, gay and lesbian children’s books now raise nary a howl from the usual corners of moral discontent and have become a happy staple of the publishing industry. What’s more, there has even been a change in the focus of these books – the homosexuality of the adult characters is no longer the paramount subject of the stories; indeed in some cases it is well-integrated into the story-lines and even taken for granted.
Two cases in point: new books by Ms. Newman and by Arthur A. Levine
Newman’s Donovan’s Big Day comes from Tricycle Press and is illustrated by Mike Dutton. It is the story of the eponymous character, Donovan, who is readying himself for his mother’s wedding to her female partner. The fact that two women are marrying is not even revealed until the book’s final pages and is not even the book’s main point. The story centers more on Donovan’s frantic attempt to get ready for The Big Day and all the quotidian preparations for such an event. After all, it is Donovan’s very important task to bear the ring at the ceremony. If the book has a theme at all, it is one of responsibility and taking pride in the completion of one’s responsibility.
It is hard not to be amused by this delightful book. The tone is joyous throughout, and Mike Dutton’s illustrations are warm and whimsical, providing the perfect complement to the book’s mood and message
These same accolades must be accorded Arthur Levine’s Monday is One Day. Published by
Scholastic Press and illustrated by Julian Hector, Monday is One Day features visuals that are more exaggerated than Dutton’s, more deeply saturated, but no less ingratiating. And the book’s message is endearingly sweet, as it depicts, in rhyming verse, the various activities engaged in by children and their parents when the parents are not working: stomping in rain puddles, running in the sun, playing in the park, etc. At least two of the families are headed by same-sex couples.
Both of these books contribute to the growing acceptance of homosexuality as nothing at all exceptional but as common and everyday as a walk in the park or a happy wedding ceremony.
Donovan’s Big Day
Leslea Newman/Mike Dutton Tricycle Press
Monday Is One Day
Arthur A. Levine/Julian Hector Scholastic Press