Picture books with a same-sex theme have a proud history of controversy, particularly when they have been made available for children to read at school. There are numerous examples of this overseas, perhaps most famously Heather Has Two Mommies first published in the US in 1990 and re-released this year.
Controversy has been notably absent in Australia because, amazingly, it seems there have been no children’s pictures books published in this marketplace that have a same-sex narrative at the centre. In our new book, Mummy & Mumma Get Married, we are seeking to take a small step to redress this.
A book is powerful thing. The printed word has an authority that the ‘screen word’ lacks. My partner Natalie and I have dedicated our working lives to book publishing, as a book designer and publisher respectively. A couple of years ago, when we started our own company, Captain Honey, we emphasised the importance of the physical book. We wanted to play our part in stemming the flow of readers towards ebooks. But we needn’t have worried because readers, particularly of children’s books, have made their own choice about this. Sales of children’s picture books continue to hold firm, even increasing by 8.7% in 2014, according to industry analyst, Nielson BookScan.
Physical books endure. They sit on our bookshelves, adorn bedside tables, lie scattered on the floor of our children’s rooms. They are felt, touched, shared, sometimes through generations. I have a copy on my bookshelf of A A Milne’s Now We Are Six that was given to my father in 1934 and I can’t wait to read it to my daughter. The sooner she knows Alexander Beetle the better.
I have a myriad of wonderful ways to teach my daughter about lost beetles, hungry caterpillars and cats in hats. Together we can celebrate and learn about our first people by reading Look See, Look at Me by Leonie Norrington. Similarly, we can explore what she has in common with kids from different cultures by reading Mirror by Jeannie Baker, the inventive picture book that presents an Australian child’s story from one end of the book and a Moroccan child’s from the other end. But I can’t use books to show her what she has in common with other Australian kids from same-sex families like hers.
We must resort to importing books from overseas. And books with same-sex families represented in them are a growing market overseas. Despite the cultural jarring for Australian readers of ‘Donovan’s Big Day’ by Leslea Newman, this is a heartwarming tale of a young boy who is ringbearer for his mummies’ wedding. By the same author, Mommy, Mama and Me shows a same-sex family doing ordinary, everyday things.
While not specifically on the same-sex theme, American author Todd Parr does a wonderful job of speaking to kids from different backgrounds with books such as It’s Okay to Be Different and The Mommy Book. A lot of the lesbian mums I know have cited these titles as important for teaching their kids the value of difference.
It is okay to be different and that’s a great message. But let’s be specific. It’s okay to have two mums or two dads, and that type of family has the potential to provide as much love and stability as any other. Marriage equality is a symbolic step that will help children with this understanding. We wrote Mummy and Mumma Get Married for our daughter, for other kids with same-sex parents, and for all kids, to make conversations about same-sex families easier to have.
The book is a classic tale of a little girl planning a big surprise. When Phoebe discovers that a certain someone doesn’t want her mummies to get married, she doesn’t understand but tries to fix the problem by organizing a surprise wedding and inviting the certain someone along. Soon the whole town is invited – and attending – and it’s a wonderful celebration.
We are raising money via crowdfunding to try and get the book into as many school libraries as we can. For $15, supporters can nominate a school to receive a free book, which comes with teacher’s notes and classroom activities to help facilitate the discussion.
Picture books are important because they are one of the key ways in which a young child first discovers their world and their place within it. As Shaun Tan puts it, a picture book is ‘about showing and telling, a window for learning to “read” in a broad sense, exploring relationships between words, pictures and the world we experience every day.’ Mummy and Mumma Get Married is our attempt to help children across Australia ‘read,’ in a broad sense, about our families.
Roz Hopkins is an experienced publisher, writer and editor and one half of the creative team behind Captain Honey Publishing. With Natalie Winter, Roz is co-author of Mummy and Mumma Get Married, a picture book illustrated by Cara King. Visit Roz's website and the Captain Honey website for more information about Roz's editing and publishing work. You can find out more about the Mummy and Mumma Get Married project at this Captain Honey information page.