Like generations of parents before us, my children’s mom and I read to our young children every night. It was part of our nighttime ritual: after dinner, we’d watch a little television before we would run into the bedroom of our children. Thankfully, they shared a bedroom at the time and were both into storytelling before it was time to say our evening prayers, followed by a kiss and a hug. The stories we read were some of the “old chestnuts” of nighttime story telling, told often enough that my children would repeat the words as we read them from the book, with the same inflection in their voices as their parents. Because their mom and I are educators, we knew fully well that they were learning how to read and speak by this simple rite of passage. What made both children early readers was this repetitious activity, performed seven days a week, no matter how tired we were. “Good Night Moon,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” “Make Way for Ducklings!” were wonderful tales, dwelling mostly on animals, colors, shapes and sizes with only a tad bit of drama or a touch of comedy in each tale told. Later in their life, the children’s mom did a bang-up job of regaling my kids with the Harry Potter tales.
While we were teaching our children a world of images, colors, shapes and sizes, I also was aware that the children’s books also taught them cultural signs and symbols, morality and ethics. Many stories had the usual cast of characters, including a mom and dad, with a son and daughter, pets and a station wagon, submarine, magic broom or enchanted carriage to transport them around the neighborhood, world or other universes. The normative way of being family was being slowly and methodically well bred within my children’s lives. Heterosexual parents or single parents ruled, with a brief mention of a grandparent or distant relative sprinkled in for good measure. In those early years, the only children’s book that was popular that presented an alternative, lesbian or gay parent world was “Heather Has Two Moms.”
Thankfully, the world of children’s literature has changed in recent years. LGBTQ and straight parents can now find engaging children’s stories that present our families in ways that are healthy, fun, adventurous and endearing. For example, a classic tale that is loved universally is “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. This story captures the fantastic family of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, loving fathers, who take care of an otherwise orphaned penguin. Then there is “King and King,” by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland. This tale is set in a fairytale narrative in which usually boy-meets-girl, this story breaks that convention and describes the love of two princes “who live happily ever afterward.” Finally, I recently received a book from Australia, “My Two Super Dads” (words by Bronwen Fallens and excellent illustrations by Muntsa Vicente). It is a lovely, simple story, well told by a little girl who loves her two dads, Mack and Tom, a cat and a dog and the wonderful extraordinarily ordinary life they live “Down Under.” Mack and Tom love their little girl as they cook and tend to housecleaning duties together and enjoy vacations at the beach. At night, the two dads did what my children’s mom and I did every night: the tucked the little girl into bed, with a story and kiss on the head and a big bear hug.
The time and place for teaching the next generation about respect and inclusion of all kinds of families begins right in our children’s bedrooms, as we tell our children about all kinds of adventures in a world of bears, Dr. Seuss characters, ducklings, Harry Potter wizardry and gay dads. With hopes for a kinder future, telling these stories, night after night, the message will be made clear: we live in a world of wonder, with all kinds of parents, who provide what we all want and need, which is love. : :