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.