Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Heather Is 25! So, What Literature Featuring Gays and Lesbians Is Available for Primary Grades Today?

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Heather Is 25! So, What Literature Featuring Gays and Lesbians Is Available for Primary Grades Today?

Article excerpt

THIS YEAR MARKS the 25th anniversary of the publishing of the groundbreaking picture book Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman (1989). Although not the first picture book to include or even feature gay and/or lesbian couples, Newman's book, republished in 1990 with Michael Willhoite's (1990) Daddy's Roommate, launched the Alyson Wonderland imprint, the children's publishing wing of Alyson Publications that became a significant promoter of U.S. books for children featuring gay and lesbian characters for over a decade. In the 25 years since Newman's book was published, the United States has experienced tremendous shifts in its political, cultural, and publishing landscapes.

Political and cultural change since the turn of the century has been significant-and positive overall, if not linearly so-in the direction of equal rights for members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community in the United States. In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled parts of the national Defense of Marriage Act (1996), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional (Reilly & Siddiqui, 2013). By the end of 2013, 16 U.S. states, along with Washington, DC, had legalized same-sex marriage, although 33 still had explicit bans in place1 (ProCon.org, 2013). In 2011, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military (Jelinek, 2010). In 2012, Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay politician to win a Senate seat (Grinberg, 2012).

These changes have impacted and been impacted by a gradually growing openness in the U.S. cultural landscape. Consistently since May 2012, the majority (50-54%) of U.S. residents polled have responded in favor of recognizing same-sex marriages "by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages" (Gallup, 2013, para. 1)-up from 27% in 1996. A recent Pew Research Center (2013) study found that 92% of U.S. LGBT adults "say society has become more accepting of them in the past decade...[and] expect it to grow even more accepting in the decade ahead" (para. 1). However, large numbers also note that they face rejection, slurs, threats, physical attacks, employment issues, and an overall lack of strong acceptance. Many legal inequalities continue (American Civil Liberties Union, 2011; Nichols, 2013). Clearly, the pace of change is unjustly slow, and there is much more work to be done to create acceptance, respect, and equal rights for this community.

With regard to publishing, a key book released at the turn of the century was Day's (2000) informative bibliography of recommended and available books featuring gay and lesbian characters and topics, including clear guidelines for selection and evaluation. She discussed 27 picture books, 16 of which were Alyson publications, attesting to the impact that Alyson Wonderland had on the market before gradually ending its run as a print label. As I reported a decade ago (Möller, 2004), for a time, new small and independent publishers filled the gap, leading to increased access to newly published titles and reissues of older books. A key player was Two Lives Publishing. In 2004, Two Lives had a richly informative, multipage website, offering books across a broad reader age range. This important resource is also no longer available. Recently, the trend of established publishers offering limited numbers of books with gay and lesbian characters has been supplemented by self-published books of varying quality, released through sites such as CreateSpace and Lulu or through limited liability corporations.

A more recent bibliographic resource that offers a rich guide for LGBTQ books as well as a detailed overview of the field, including awards, history, publishing shifts, and evaluation guidelines, is by Naidoo (2012). Important to consider, however, is that Naidoo's book is focused primarily on creating strong and varied library collections. …

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