Linda de Hann’s King and King (2002)/King and King and Family (2004)

King and KingKing and King and Family

King and King, written by Linda de Hann and illustrated by Stern Nijland, queers the traditional fairy tale.

In this version, the queen, crown prince, and their pet cat live together. The very controlling queen orders her son to get married so he can rule the kingdom. As she barks demands at him, spittle rains from her mouth. After a day of being bullied, he agrees to be wed. His mother quickly arranges to have a group of single ladies paraded in front of him.

Almost all the princesses are physically unattractive: one is overweight, another’s arms are disproportionately long, a third wears glasses and has bad teeth, a fourth is very tall and skinny. The last princess is fairy tale princess-pretty. She has long blond hair and an hour glass figure. This princess arrives with her brother: Prince Lee.

The two princes fall in love at first sight. They quickly marry and become known as king and king. Of course, they live happily ever after.

Two years after its English release, King and King was followed by King and King and Family. The same writer/illustrator team created the book, which depicts king and king’s honeymoon. It is illustrated in the same style, which provides a sense of consistency across texts.

The men travel to the jungle and their pet cat stows away in their suitcase. As the threesome make their way through the jungle, the newlyweds delight in watching animals’ parent their offspring. This makes King Bertie wish he had a child of his own.

When the couple and their cat arrive home a little girl wearing a bright colored tank top and prettily patterned skirt pops out of their suitcase. She has a tan-skin tone and is ambivalently raced. The girl is immediately made a part of the family. She shares her adventures with the couple, although the reader is not privy to her story.

King and king officially adopt her, and it is noted that the process involves a lot of paperwork.

I am not a fan of these books. I don’t appreciate the abject depictions of women in the first book, and I don’t understand the choice to make a little girl magically appear in the two kings’ suitcase once they arrive home in the follow-up.

Bey-Clarke and Clarke’s Keesha Series

I want to introduce readers to a small press worth following – My Family!/Dodi Press. My Family! specializes in reading material featuring diverse lesbian and gay parents swimming, vacationing, and preparing for science fairs with their happy children. The fact that the families are headed by same-sex parents is clear but not a theme explored.

Monica Bey-Clarke and Cheryl N. Clarke, the life partners, business partners, and co-writers running My Family! describe their goal as “creating a multi-cultural, positive and affirming library of children’s books that feature LGBT families.” They have succeeded and I think parents, educators, and librarians should take note. Along with books, My Family! offers diverse, LGB-inclusive coloring books and a board game.

A young black girl named Keesha and her two brown-skinned moms are featured in several books by the Bey-Clarke and Clarke, including the 2010 publication Keesha and Her Two Moms Go Swimming.

Keesha and Her Two Moms Go Swimming is a simple snapshot of a family’s day at a public pool. The book introduces readers to different family forms. For instance, Keesha’s best friend Trevor is at the pool with his two dads. It is a simple story with no major conflicts, which is refreshing in an LGB children’s picture book!

Keesha’s South African Trip is of a far better production quality. Although published six years after Keesha and Her Moms Go Swimming, Keesha seems to be about the same age. Her friend Trevor is reintroduced. The two children go to school together and learn about South Africa. Keesha is so excited she tells her moms all about what she learned and asks if they can go on a safari in Africa. They surprise her with the best birthday present ever – a trip to South Africa.

In South Africa, Keesha is introduced to new food and customs. She also gets to see some of the animals she learned about in school. When the family returns home, the bubbly and confident Keesha tells her class all about her adventure. Like Keesha and Her Moms Go Swimming, in Keesha’s South African Trip, Keesha is clearly a child with two mothers, but this fact is not commented on.

Keesha’s South African Trip is very engaging and warrants several reads. I appreciated the inclusion of South African foods and animals native to the region. It will be fun for young children, and many will appreciate the repetition of characters across texts in the two books.

The Keesha Series certainly serves an important niche in the LGB community and will be appreciated by many families for providing snapshots of same-sex couples parenting happy healthy children. Most books I come across with LGBT characters and themes deal with issues of inequality, shame, confusion, and bullying. It is important to be able to add books to the bookshelf that include lesbian and gay families without turning sexuality into a source of conflict.

Amy Asks a Question… Grandma – What’s a Lesbian? (1996)

Amy Asks a Question… Grandma – What’s a Lesbian? (1996) was written by Jeanne Arnold and illustrated by Barbaba Lindquist, partners and co-founders of the book’s publisher,  Mother Courage Press.

Amy, a young girl with lesbian grandmothers, is called a lesbian at school when her and some girl friends hug after winning a soccer game. Amy is confused and later asks her mother what “lesbian” means. The girl’s mother brings her to Grandma Bonnie who provides a detailed and celebratory description of what being a lesbian means to her.

The wordy book scattered with a few black-and-white drawings, introduces several aspects of lesbian culture: pride parades, rainbow flags, pink triangle pins, and commitment ceremonies/handfasting. It provides a positive and passionate description of lesbian love and community.

I am not sure who the intended audience is. The book is far too wordy for young children. The description of lesbian culture is so detailed that I can’t imagine anyone reading it wouldn’t have already answered the question – what’s a lesbian? – for their audience. Even within the text, Amy’s ignorance and need to ask about the meaning of “lesbian” is awkward. She knows her gay uncle died of AIDS-related complications, but doesn’t know what a lesbian is. I found that a bit farfetched.

I don’t recommend this book for the purpose of introducing children to sexual identities and cultures, but it is a fun addition to adult collections because of it’s celebration of lesbian love. For instance, when describing being lesbian to Amy, Grandma Bonnie says: “The benefit of being a lesbian is one of the best kept secrets ever. And it’s more than just making love, it’s being in love with, laughing and crying, sharing experiences together with each other and other women an children – and men we can trust.” Lines like this, references to the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, and paganism, make it worth the purchase if you can find it used!

Atkins’ A Name on the Quilt (1999)

A Name on the Quilt (1999), published by Antheneum Books, was written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Tad Hills. Simple, but warm illustrations face evocative text that describes the family and friends of Ron, a man who passed away from AIDS complications, sewing a quilt to memorialize him.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Ron’s niece, a young girl named Lauren. Lauren, her parents, grandmother, and little brother, all gather, along with three of her uncle’s friends, to work on the quilt.

Making the quilt brings memories of her uncle to the surface. Lauren and Ron had a very close relationships; she recalls swimming in ponds, ice skating on them, dancing and laughing, with her uncle.

As the group makes the quilt, Lauren takes her negative feelings out on her little brother. She doesn’t think he understands how serious their project is, but she eventually realizes he is mourning too.

This story of love and loss beautifully captures the pain of mourning and does a wonderful job making the important work of memorializing present throughout.

Although Ron’s family and friends are clearly participating in a community ritual by making the quilt, the story is deeply personal, only subtly gesturing towards the AIDS Memorial Quilt as a social and political project. However, information on deaths related to AIDS complications and the AIDS Memorial Quilt Project are discussed in the back-matter.

This is a wonderful book about grieving loved ones that also introduces an important form of community activism and collective memorializing. As described on the AIDS Memorial Quilt Project website, the quilt is “a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic”.

I recommend A Name on the Quilt for personal and school libraries. Although almost twenty years old, the book remains relevant and is a sensitive, age-appropriate discussions of the themes mentioned in my review. The content and fairly text-heavy style make it most appropriate for children over five-years-old.

Aldrich’s How My Family Came to Be – Daddy, Papa and Me (2003)

Published by New Family Press, How My Family Came to Be – Daddy, Papa and Me (2003) is written by Andrew R. Aldrich and illustrated by Mike Motz.

Two white men adopt a black baby whose mother is described as too ill to care for him. The adoption process is touched on – the two men meet with a social worker and have their home inspected before they can adopt. The love they feel for their adopted child and the care they provide is emphasized.

The book is simply written and can prompt conversations about different family forms, particularly adoption, but it is quite unremarkable.

I am noticing a pattern of white couples adopting black children in LGBT adoption stories. It’s something I am beginning to track. I’m not sure what to make of it now, just something I’m noting!

Stephanie Burks’ While You Were Sleeping (2004)

While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping, a 2004 publication by Burks Publishing/Trafford, is lyrically written by Stephanie Burks and brightly illustrated by Kelli Bienvenu. The brief book, about two moms waiting for the baby they are adopting to be born, and loving the child from the moment they meet, is a sweet story to read while soothing a new arrival.

The refrain “while you were sleeping” is repeated through the text as the mothers’ describe bonding by holding the baby and singing “lullabies we never thought we would get a chance to sing.”

While You Were Sleeping is still available from the publisher. I appreciate the focus on adoption, especially interracial adoption; the baby is illustrated with very light brown skin and tight black curls, the mothers are white.

I really like this book but would prefer it as a board book. It’s most suitable for a very young audience because of its length and content and little hands can do a lot of damage!

Bryan’s The Different Dragon (2006)

The Different Dragon

Published by Two Lives Publishing, The Different Dragon (2006), was written by Jennifer Bryan and illustrated by Danamarie Hosler. Hosler’s warm illustrations pair well with Bryan’s sweet story of a little boy, Noah, his sister, many pets, and two moms.

The book begins as a cozy account of a family getting ready to settle down for the night. One of Noah’s moms, Momma, helps him brush his teeth, then his other mom, Go-Ma, cuddles up to tell him a bed time story. Go-Ma and Noah end up working together to weave a whimsical tale about a boy, Noah, who sails the sea and meets a dragon. The dragon he meets is sad because he doesn’t want to be ferocious. Noah provides his new friend with some wise advice about being yourself.

The Different Dragon is a delightful story. It’s perfect for bedtime, just a little silly and sure to inspire sweet dreams. Noah’s moms are clearly in a same-sex relationship, but that’s not the point of the story, although, accepting difference and understanding that dragons (and people) are complex characters is a take-away even the youngest reader is sure to understand.

The Different Dragon remains available through Two Lives Publishing, which continues to print the book on demand. It’s also easy to find used.