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