The children's literature market has come a long way since (the ever wonderful and important) Pat the Bunny. These days, kid's tales tackle topics from adoption to egg donation — and they do it in giant books with adorable, full-color illustrations. Basically, if you're looking for something to explain to your daughter that she was adopted by three dads who live in a New York City loft and all love her very much (no matter which one is her biological father!) — there's a book for that.
One of the first children's books that presented an alternative to the usual one straight mom, one straight dad, and one straight baby POV was Harvey Fierstein's The Sissy Duckling. Originally published in 2002, the touching tale of tolerance tugged (sorry) at the heartstrings of many — I still can't read it without getting a little misty-eyed — and plenty of other kids tales that extoll not only the value, but the awesomeness, of being different (or just tell unique, wonderful stories of reproduction and parenting) have followed in its, er, web-foot prints.
The Atlantic reports on children's books with a fresh twist that are thankfully trickling into the market. There's The Very Special Ducklings, by Wava Cirisan, the tale of a duck with eggs to spare who gives one with an infertile friend. Kimberley Kluger-Bell's The Pea That Was Me is about sperm donation, and Carmen Martinez Jover's The Baby Kangaroo Treasure Hunt is about a gay kangaroo couple who gets seeds from a lady kanga friend to make their perfect baby. Surrogacy, A Magical Delivery, by Tamara Martin, is about, well, surrogacy — but this time with opossums. (The fact that the surrogacy idea is easier to illustrate with marsupials probably explains their popularity.)
Therapist Dr. Patricia Mendell, who specializes in fertility issues and alternative family building, says these books can be crucial for opening up discussion between parent and child.
The picture books are a nice way of beginning. People always think children process the same way you process, and they don't. Their cognitive abilities are very concrete. Even if you just read these as stories about how people help other people, people share, or people see other people in trouble, stories are the way in which you make connections.
Not only connections between parent and child — but between child and the rest of the world. Showing a kid that while their situation might not be as commonplace as the so-called nuclear family (obviously that reference has its own set of problems), that doesn't mean it's wrong or bad. Opening up those conversations lets kids know it's okay to ask questions, and arms them with the confidence and tools to deal with inquiries outside the home.
On that tip, if parents can afford it, or can get to a library, it's a good idea to read all types of parenting stories to your children. Exposing kids to all sorts of families from the very beginning will imbue them with a sense of equality. They'll learn from an early age that everyone's special and unique, and everyone's deserving of respect and care. Can you imagine how great it would be if young boys grew up engrossed in tales about brave leader girls, and straight kids read plenty of stories from a gay protagonist's point of view? It would be really great, and there's now an opportunity to start making that happen.
Plus, children's books are the best books, so it's just good to have a lot of them around, anyway.