Books for Queer Families: In Our Mothers’ House


SPOILER ALERT: I hated this book. I hated this book SO MUCH.

In Our Mothers’ House, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, is a book without a strong plot – just a series of reminiscences by the oldest daughter of two women who grew up in Berkeley. She’s one of three kids (with a younger brother and sister) all adopted. The parents are white, the oldest daughter, black, middle son Asian, youngest daughter white – but there is no discussion of their racial differences at all, or any hints of challenges with their transracial adoption. It seems like a fairly idyllic childhood, except for the homophobic neighbor who appears on several pages.

Pros: Both the moms in this book *look* like lesbians. And yes, lesbians can and do look like any way you can imagine, but a fair number of them have short hair and don’t wear make-up and aren’t willow-thin and live in comfortable, not especially feminine clothes, and I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a woman depicted like that in another picture book. It made me EXTRA sad that I hated the story so much, since the illustrations had such promise for me.

Cons: First of all the whole book written in the past tense, which was so awkward to me, and made me think the who time that someone had died (and indeed, in the final pages, the mothers, by then grandmothers, did).

Second of all, and most importantly to me, THE HOMOPHOBIC NEIGHBOR, who serves no purpose and plays no role beyond being an especially hateful reminder that this family is DIFFERENT (even though the book otherwise seems be doing the good, liberal, “look how we are all the same” thing.) I just don’t think that there is ever any need to show gratuitous homophobia, especially in a PICTURE BOOK. There is no redemptive arch to the homophobia. The neighbor never comes around. She’s just there, being hateful.

The Bottom Line: This is a book that’s intended for older kids – a late elementary picture book, if you will. I can see that maybe it would be good (no, I’m not even going to say good, USEFUL) for straight kids of straight parents with very little exposure to queer folks to start a discussion about treating others, especially queer folks, with kindness. But honestly, I’m not worried about those kids. Straight parents – you should be able to teach your kids to be decent human beings without this book. I’m more concerned about the kids of gay parents who are being told in this book in big and little ways that their family is weird – and about gay kids thinking that this is the life they are going to grow up to. Those kids deserve way better than In Our Mother’s House.

Books for Queer Families: In Our Mothers’ House

Preschool Reads: Thanksgiving

23223753675_81b3aee81d_zI’ve found it surprisingly hard to find Thanksgiving books that I like. I’m trying to stay away from stories about the first Thanksgiving (since I think that’s a little more complicated than usually presented), and focus on our current Thanksgiving celebrations – with a focus on family, food, and gratitude. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed:

Feast for 10, written and illustrated by Cathryn Falwell (1993).
A holiday counting book – in which a black family shops and prepares a Thanksgiving feast. I love the collage illustrations.

Giving thanks: a Native American good morning message, written by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr. (1995).
A Mohawk address of gratitude to Mother Earth for all she provides her people. Fits well with the themes of Thanksgiving and also provides a Native American voice without implying that the pilgrims arrival was great news for the Native folks already here!

Gracias: The Thanksgiving Turkey written by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (1996).
When Miguel’s truck driver Papa sends him a live turkey to raise for Thanksgiving, he names him Gracias. A live turkey in New York City leads to some humorous hijinks, and it doesn’t take Miguel long to decide Gracias should be a friend, not dinner. The book is sprinkled with beginning Spanish vocabulary, and also comes in an all Spanish version.

One is a feast for Mouse: a Thanksgiving tale, written by Judy Cox, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (2008).
Such a cute story of a mouse making a meal from holiday leftovers, whose eyes are bigger than his stomach.

The Thanksgiving Door, written and illustrated by Debby Atwell (2003).
When Ann burns the turkey, she and Ed decide to go out for dinner – to the new neighborhood restaurant. The family that runs the New World Cafe is at first a bit distressed that two strangers have crashed their first Thanksgiving dinner in America, but at the encouragement of Grandmother, they embrace their guests and the spirit of Thanksgiving as celebrate in both their new and old worlds.

Preschool Reads: Thanksgiving

What I Read: October 2015

I read 5 books in October – all fiction. One was on my Kindle, the rest were actually in print! 3 were by authors of color or Native writers.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811).
Jane Austen is always a good choice, but I picked this up because it fulfilled two tasks for the Read Harder Challenge (a book published before 1850 and a book written by someone when they were under the age of 25). I just started the challenger this fall and am having such fun with it.

Dance Boots by Linda LaGarde Grover (2010).
Another multitasking book for Read Harder (a collection of short stories and a book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture). I don’t read many short stories, I guess I like plot with a long game, but I really enjoyed this collection of interconnected stories by Ojibwe author Grover. I wanted to branch because Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie (as wonderful as both are) for the “indigenous culture” task and I’m so glad I did!

This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (2014).
Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki have collaborated on several graphic novels that I’ve enjoyed and this was another good edition – the story of two middle school aged friends and their summer on the lake. A good capture of the inbetweeness of that age – beginning to be aware of grown up problems in the world, but not really able to process them as adults.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson (2015).
So love this new Ms. Marvel – and it’s getting me into comics and superheroes again which I’m enjoying as well.

Ash by Malinda Lo (2009).
Another I picked up for Read Harder (book that is a retelling of a classic story). This is a lesbian YA retelling of Cinderella, and I really liked it. I am constantly amazed by the breadth of literature out there these days for queer teens. It is wonderful and makes my heart glad.

What I Read: October 2015

What I Read: September 2015

I read 10 book in September. 4 were non-fiction, 6 were fiction. 4 were on the Kindle, 4 were in print, 2 were on audiobook. 5 were by writers of color.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson (2009).
Lots of good food for thought in this one. Takes a look at the research in child development and examines/contradicts some popular child-rearing wisdom.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (2015).
I loved this book so much – a middle grades bite of magical realism. When Sophie Brown’s parents inherit her Great Uncle Jim’s farm, they move from LA to a more rural, agricultural part of California. Sophie discovers some of Great Uncle Jim’s very special chickens and starts a self-education campaign to become an exceptional poultry farmer.

The Heist by Janet Evanovich (2013).
Sort of like an action movie in book form. I was looking for a quick, mindless read that I could just plow through and this definitely fit that bill.

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa De los Santos (2014).
Another middle grades read – time travel with a side of labor rights and social justice.

The Martian by Andy Weir (2014).
This was SO good. It was a book club pick, or I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, and I’m so glad I read it. Science and smart, funny characters, and suspense and adventure. You can see why they made it into a movie. If you are flying anywhere in the next year, this would be a good book for the plane!

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke (2007).
An early chapter book about a little girl, Anna Hibiscus, and her adventures in her home in “Amazing Africa”. Great read-aloud.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward (2013).
Beautiful and haunting and devastatingly sad. Ward looks at her own early life and the lives of 5 young men who died within a four year period in Ward’s 20s.

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen (2014).
I listed to this on audiobook, which was good, because it’s sort of dry and I’m not sure I would have gotten throw it otherwise, but it was really fascinating to learn more about the women behind Pussy Riot and, for better or worse (definitely worse), the Russian criminal justice system.

Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz (2014).
A fun middle grades read about Jocelyn Hook (daughter, of course of the dread pirate Captain Hook) and her escape from finishing school to Neverland Island.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (2015).
Another audiobook, read by Aziz Ansari himself, which made the book extra amusing. A mix of sociological research on dating and Ansari’s humor, which I enjoy.

What I Read: September 2015

Books for Queer Families: The Different Dragon

The Different Dragon

The Different Dragon, written by Jennifer Bryan and illustrated by Danamarie Hosler, is a different kind of two mom book as well! First of all, there are no moms or mommies or mothers or families mentioned in the title, which is amazing (actual non-queer people might just happen to pick this book up!), and second of all – HERE IS THE BOOK I WAS LOOKING FOR – the two moms are NOT a plot point and are NOT in any way what the book is about. Instead this is a book about a not-so-little boy’s bedtime and the bedtime story he makes up with one of his moms about a dragon who doesn’t want to be fierce any more.

Pros: Yay for family diversity that is just a fact of life and not something to be examined or questioned. I really liked the illustrations as well, and the fact that dragons (like boys and girls) can be any way they want to be, and don’t only have to be what folks expect of them.

Cons: The moms are named Momma and Go-Ma, which is fine (and probably reflects the author or some other family’s actual names), but felt awkward to me. It didn’t phase Frances at all though, so probably just my hang up.

The Bottom Line: Buy it! I also discovered this one at my local bookstore, and picked it up right away. Yay for a story in which a kid just happens to have two moms. I’m only sad that there are no more by this author and that the publishing company is on “hiatus”, so it doesn’t look like there will be any similar books coming from them in the future.

Books for Queer Families: The Different Dragon

What I Read: August 2015

I read 9 books in August: 4 non-fiction, 5 fiction. 3 were on the Kindle, 4 were in print, 2 were in audiobook. 3 were by writers of color.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (2013).

I actually listened to this on audiobook on my phone. It was really interesting to hear about Sotomayor’s life and her path to the Supreme Court, but it wasn’t the most engaging read ever. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll be pushing it on other folks.

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (2014).

This was sort of the opposite audiobook experience. I had heard good things about this romance novel, and though I don’t read a ton of romance, this seemed like one I might like (see NPR’s recommendation here). It was so good, you guys. Totally hooked me from the start, full of the really luscious descriptive language that romance is known for. Would recommend.

Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday (2015).

This was a combination of my two favorite types of memoirs: travel and food. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and yet, still have no desire to travel to Vietnam/eat truly authentic Vietnamese food. If you like travel or food, you might like this one as well.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson (2014).

The new Ms. Marvel is a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager (Kamala Khan) living in Jersey City. If that’s not enough to peak your interested, the series is written by G. Willow Wilson, who is one of my favorite graphic novelists. I was so excited to find this in my local bookstore.

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok (2014).

I got this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. It took me a while to pick, but I’m glad I did. It was a delightful tale of growing up and becoming your own person, mixed with a healthy dose of ballroom dancing. Charlie Wong is a thoroughly enjoyable protagonist. I’ve read Kwok’s first book, Girl in Translation, and I like her sophomore effort even more.

Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson (2015).

I liked the first volume so much, that I went back two days later and bought the second! You may like it as well.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (2014).

I forget where I first read about this, but as soon as I heard the description (children’s chapter book about a 6th Grade food critic), I knew I wanted to read it. It did not disappoint. Gladys Gatsby *loves* food, but after an unfortunately creme brûlée incident, she is banned from the kitchen by her non-culinary parents. When an essay she wrote for a newspaper contest is mistaken for an actual job application, Gladys finds herself reviewing a restaurant for the New York Standard. Charming and fun.

Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck (1983).

Erma Bombeck is a national treasure. A often funny, sometimes sentimental take on motherhood.

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green (2015).

This was such an interesting and important read for me. Prince Edward County closed its public schools (for years) rather than integrate after the Brown v. Board of Education (in which black residents of Prince Edward County were a party). Growing up in Virginia, just a few hours away, I was aware of this. My dad had pointed out Prince Edward Academy (the private school for white student founded in the wake of the schools closing) and told me the bare outline of what had happened. I did not realize just how long the schools were closed though and had not considered fully the effect that the school closure had on the lives of those individuals who were denied an education as a result. I would really recommend this for anyone interested in civil rights or American history (especially all the Virginians I know).

What I Read: August 2015

Books for Queer Families: A Tale of Two Mommies

A Tale of Two Mommies

A Tale of Two Mommies, written by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Mike Blanc, features a little boy at the beach with his two moms. Two other kids at the beach are curious about his family and ask him lots of questions about just how this two mommies thing works (Who takes you fishing? Who comes if you have a bad dream?)

Pros: Super cute illustrations. Features a brown skinned kid and two pale mommies, so yay for reflecting families that are diverse in more ways than one!

Cons: CAN WE STOP WITH THE “HOW COULD TWO MOMS (OR TWO DADS) HANDLE THE FULL PARENTING BUSINESS” TROPE ALREADY?!?! Do kids even ask these questions?!?! No one has asked Frances yet, but maybe it’s coming (I have gotten on the playground a few times: “she doesn’t have a dad?”, but no one has ever followed up with “but then who brushes her teeth?” or whatever.)

The Bottom Line: Unless you are specifically looking for a book that reflects transracial adoption in a family with two moms, then I say skip it. I discovered this book at my local bookstore and despite the fact that I loved the illustrations (and it was in paperback, thus cheap), I did not buy it because DEAR GOD, stop already with this ridiculousness.

(I know this will invariably get some comment on how I should write a children’s book, but that’s hard work, and not particularly my skill set. Maybe I’ll attempt it someday, but I’m still hoping that someone who is actually a children’s book author will write a regular old kid’s book, with a kid who just happens to have two moms or two dads).

Books for Queer Families: A Tale of Two Mommies