My partner and I love to read. When we adopted our son, we made it a priority from day one to read to him. And the same for our daughter when we adopted her. It's our nightly ritual to get them ready for bed, then to lie with them and read. Now, at age 7, our son loves to read, on his own and with us still, a definite sign of success in our hope to cultivate in our kids a lifelong love of learning, discovery and imagination.
But there’s always a challenge: What to do about the mommy in the books? When the kids were young, we just read “daddy and papa” in place of “mommy and daddy” in the stories. It was easy to switch the words, even though they didn’t always match the pictures. But we wanted our kids to feel that their experience was reflected in what we read.
We didn’t “read in” gay families in all stories, as many other families have one mommy or one daddy or a mommy and daddy. But we cringed when reading the Disney picture book of "Peter Pan" (one of mine from childhood) and watching the animated movie too: Poor Wendy becomes a mother to the Lost Boys who want to keep her so she can take care of them and read stories to them. She makes numerous comments like “Poor children, you don’t have a mother?” and “How awful not to have a mother!” (Not to mention the racism and cultural insensitivity in the portrayal of Tiger Lily and the Piccaninny Tribe ...)
Sometimes it was just too complicated just to change a word or two when the whole story was mommy focused. For that reason, we’ve avoided some classics that center on moms, like "The Runaway Bunny," "Are You My Mommy?" and "I'll Love You Forever" and "Hug."
When I think of my son’s favorite picture books from when he was younger, I see that the stories don’t have any parents whatsoever. Instead they feature plucky and independent children who have adventures outside of a family structure or parental supervision, like "Harold and the Purple Crayon" or "The Night Pirates." Of course he was drawn to those, for his own adventurous streak, but they also made them easy for us to read without the need to alter anything.
But notably these stories usually feature young boys. Once our daughter arrived in our household, it became more of a challenge to find stories of plucky young heroines. And we are on an ongoing search to find books that feature gay or racially diverse families.
What are your favorite books to read to your kids? I always like to hear what other families are reading and hope to discover more books to add to our collection!
Our Favorite Books to Read
"The Hungry Caterpillar" – Eric Carle's classic about a caterpillar who becomes a beautiful butterfly. (Our daughter knows this one by heart.)
"Goodnight Moon" and "Big Red Barn" – Two classics that feature animals: a young bunny going to bed and saying goodnight to the things in the bedroom, and a look at the animals during the course of a day of their lives on a farm.
"Each Peach Pear Plum" – Using characters from nursery rhymes and other stories and the I Spy game, the book gathers them all together at the end for a friendly picnic.
"Everywhere Babies" – While focusing on babies and their activities and achievements, the author and illustrator are inclusive in their language and depiction of different races and family structures.
"Harold and the Purple Crayon" – Harold goes off on his own adventure, using his imagination to create a world and story for himself.
"The Night Pirates" – A young boy goes off on an adventure with some girl pirates during the course of one night, with nary a parent mentioned or depicted.
"Little Boy" – Charmingly depicts an active little boy and his favorite things. There is a dad, but dad only, in the illustrations. The story largely avoids sentimentality. (Conversely, "Little Girl," its companion book, featuring a girl and her mother, is all about sentimentality.
"Lost and Found" and "The Way Back Home" – In "Lost and Found," a boy finds a penguin at his door and tries to help him home, only to discover the joy of friendship. "The Way Back Home" features the same boy who this time encounters an alien and they find a way to help each other.
Our Favourite Gay Family Books
"One Dad Two Dads Blue Dad Green Dad" – A young girl defends her two dads to a curious boy. It’s a bit didactic for my taste, but useful nonetheless.
"Daddy, Papa, and Me" – A child lists his favorite activities with his daddy and his papa.
"ABC A Family Alphabet Book" – An ABC book that focuses on what kids like, with illustrations that feature gay moms and dads. No attention is drawn to gay families; it’s just natural and without fanfare.
"And Tango Makes Three" – Is this North America’s most popular gayby shower gift? A heartwarming and well-known tale of two male penguins at the Bronx Zoo who are given an egg to hatch as their own.
"The Family Book" and "We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families" – Todd Parr’s simple drawings include people and animals who are all kinds of colors. His books aren’t gay specific but include gay families, as well as families of all shapes and colors, including purple and green, in a true rainbow of diversity.