Across the Page: Children’s Books 2008

My son’s shelves are filled with children’s books that show both a mother and a father. At this point it’s easy enough to change “mommy and daddy” to “mommy and mama” because he’s only 9 months old and, well, can’t read. Even so, there is something genuinely fulfilling about reading him books that represent his two-mom family. Here are some of our favorites: Lesléa Newman’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies, Kaitlyn Considine’s Emma and Meesha My Boy: A Two Mom Story, and Jennifer Bryan’s The Different Dragon.

Heather Has Two Mommies, written by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Diana Souza (Alyson Books)

“Heather’s favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two hands, and two feet. She also had two pets: a ginger-colored cat named Gingersnap and a big black dog named Midnight.” And, you guessed it, “Heather also has two mommies: Mama Jane and Mama Kate.”

It’s hard to see why Newman’s classic children’s book caused such a stir when it was first published back in 1989. Heather Has Two Mommies is an engaging, relatively quiet story about a little girl who goes to a playgroup and discovers — shock! — that not all families are alike.

When Heather first arrives at Molly’s house, she has a great time playing with all of the new toys and meeting the other children. During story time, Molly reads a book about a boy whose father is a veterinarian, and Heather admits that she does not have a dad.

It’s a moment of realization. “Did everyone except Heather have a daddy? Heather’s forehead crinkles up, and she begins to cry.”

Molly comforts Heather and explains that she’s lucky to have two mothers, then explains how all the children at the playgroup have different families. Stacy and Joshua have two daddies. Juan has a mommy, a daddy and a brother. Miriam has a mommy and a sister.

The children draw pictures of their families and hang them up on the wall. Molly proclaims that “each family is special. The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.”

Newman was inspired to write Heather Has Two Mommies for friends who could not find a book that reflected their family. After it was published, she was surprised by the controversy that ensued — she was labeled the most “dangerous writer living in America.”

The reaction was extreme. Books were stolen off of library shelves. The title was removed from the Rainbow Curriculum in New York City. It was called “evidence of the militant homosexual agenda.”

Newman accepted the challenge to write this book, she explained, “to create a book that would help children with lesbian mothers feel good about themselves and their family.” Over a decade later, it is still relevant.

Emma and Meesha My Boy: A Two-Mom Story, written by Kaitlyn Considine, illustrated by Binny Hobbs (Two Mom Books)

Kaitlyn Considine’s Emma and Meesha My Boy is a fun little book about a girl and her cat, whom she calls Meesha My Boy. The prose is playful and filled with rhymes, and Binny Hobbs’ illustrations are bright and cheerful.

Emma can’t get away with much throughout the story. She’s yelled at for just about everything she tries to do with poor Meesha My Boy — playing with him like a toy, picking him up, putting him in a dress, giving him a bit of her lollipop, painting his fur brown — until she finally learns how to play nice. “It was good to hear YES, instead of hearing NO.”

The fact that Emma has two moms is simply background information. The only explanation comes on the second page: “Just so you know who’s who let me tell you that one of the moms is mama and the other is mommy. That makes two.”

Published over a decade after Newman’s classic, Emma and Meesha My Boy: A Two Mom Story shows how far we’ve come in this genre of children’s books.