Queer Mama Book Recs

Mommy-Mama-MeWhen my wife Kris and I started our family nearly a decade ago, we were given a board book that we proceeded to read to our daughters every night for years, until it literally fell apart: Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman. (Actually, one of our daughters might have chewed off the binding during a particularly fraught teething stage, but I digress.) We supplemented this bedtime routine with a handful of other favorite children’s titles: Time for Bed by Mem Fox; Pajama Time by the wonderful Sandra Boynton; The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood; and, of course, Heather has Two Mommies, the queer mama classic by the amazing Lesléa Newman.

As our daughters have grown, we’ve sought out more books that feature same-sex parents of the female variety because we want our girls to see our family reflected in the stories we read—more of a challenge than it should be, really, in the twenty-first century. We’ve also looked for books that normalize donor conception, since that’s the way our family came to be. The lists I’ve come across at Goodreads and on assorted library sites tend to be either too broad or don’t include enough information on the age group or availability of the titles. Which isn’t to say I’m not grateful those compilations exist. It’s just that in my parenting experience, I’m generally so exhausted from the daily grind that I don’t have the energy to sort through each entry. What I’ve long wanted is a curated list of books that feature two-mom families and, preferably, include a lesbian parent’s personal review.

family-faves

Our family favorites

So, just as I did when I couldn’t find the exact queer retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that I wanted to read, I’ve decided to create a curated list of queer mom books myself.

Below, you’ll find titles that feature lesbian moms and diverse families as well as a couple of stories about donor conception and a few middle-grade books with queer girl characters. I’ve included brief descriptions and/or reviews of each story, which are completely subjective and potentially inaccurate as are all book recommendations and reviews. I hope our list of family favorites and to-be-reads helps other families like ours. And if not, at least Kris and I now have a curated list to call up in the future when even more of our parenting memories have been lost to the blur of time.

A Quick Note on Other Lists

A year and a half ago, our local librarian recommended taking a look at the Rainbow Book List, compiled each year by the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. These annual bulletins present a “bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content [that] are recommended for people from birth through eighteen years of age.” I am incredibly happy that the ALA provides such a resource, for obvious reasons. 

reading3

A typical scene at our house

However, I have found in my semi-permanent, sleep-deprived state that the ALA compilation, which is organized by year and contains a broad range of LGBTQ+ topics, offers so many options that I soon become overwhelmed and click away. But check it out if you get a chance. It’s as fabulous as our local librarian, who just happens to sit on the ALA Rainbow Book List committee.

Another list I wholeheartedly recommend can be found on the Welcoming Schools pageGreat LGBTQ Inclusive Picture and Middle Grade Books.” This page contains many of our favorite two-mom stories as well as the gay-dad books we either own or check out from our library over and over. And finally, Goodreads has a list calledChildren’s & teen fiction featuring lesbian mothers” that contains 90 (ninety!) titles. Obviously, the number of titles available in the lesbian mom and queer girl genres has grown immensely since our first daughter was born in 2011.

I hope you have as much fun browsing our family favorites as Kris, the girls, and I did compiling this list. Now, we’re off to read some of these nearly forgotten gems…

Picture Books

Children’s Books Featuring Two Moms

Mama, Mommy, and Me by Lesléa Newman
As previously noted, this two-mom board book is a family favorite that we read to our daughters nightly for years. And years, and years… Our oldest daughter was just reading this list over my shoulder, and she crowed in delight when she saw this first title. Then she said, “Isn’t that the one Ellie chewed up?” And yes. Yes, it is.

Heather has Two Mommies by Lesléa NewmanHeather-two-mommies_sm
We initially owned the classic 1990s version of this book that offered more detail on conception than the girls could assimilate when they were super little. Happily, the updated version reads more like Mama, Mommy, and Me, with colorful illustrations that won’t make moms born and raised in the Midwest (ahem) blush.

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager
This is a sweet story from the point of view of a young boy with two moms. We don’t own it, but we have checked it out from the library more times than I can count.

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco In-Our-Mothers-House
Our daughter’s school librarian recommended this gem about a twentieth-century rainbow family in the Bay Area. Kris and I were a bit doubtful at first—we hadn’t heard of the book or the author—but we both teared up by the end of our first read. What a lovely, lovely book, told from the perspective of a grown child of lesbian moms.

Donovan’s Big Day by Lesléa Newman
I just read this story today about a boy preparing for his moms’ wedding. Donovan has an important job to do in the ceremony, and the narrative follows him as he goes about getting ready for “his” big day. Another gem from the inimitable Lesléa Newman.

Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden
I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I am a huge fan of Nancy Garden and her wonderful books, so I’m putting it on my list!

Children’s Books about Diverse Families and People

The Family Book by Todd ParrThe-Family-Book
I have yet to find a Todd Parr book I don’t like, and this one about all the sizes, shapes, and colors that families come in is no different.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary
This is another library read that we’ve enjoyed multiple times. Like Heather has Two Mommies and other similar books, the story revolves around a classroom discussion about the broad diversity of family types—including same-sex parented families.

It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
Another winner from Todd Parr, this book seeks to normalize differences and assures kids that no matter who they are, they are special and loved. Yay!

Skin Again by bell hooksSkin-Again
A wonderful, beautifully illustrated poem by one of my favorite writers about opening your heart to who people are on the inside, this picture book has been a grown-up favorite in our household as well as popular among the younger set. Every time I read this book, I feel hopeful about our collective future, which in today’s political and environmental climate is quite an impressive feat.

Red: A Crayons Story by Michael Hall
This emotionally affecting story about identity features a crayon who is red on the outside but feels blue on the inside. At first Red struggles as his family and teacher encourage him to live up to his “red” label, but life improves immensely when he embraces who he really is on the inside.

Annies-plaid-shirt

Annie’s Plaid Shirt by Stacy B. Davids
Another book about identity, this story explores a child’s distress when she is told she has to wear a dress to her uncle’s wedding. I totally was Annie, only I’m pretty sure I wore a blue sweatshirt everywhere instead of a plaid shirt, and I did end up having to wear the detested dress. Happily, this story ends better for Annie.

The Big Book of Girl Power (DC Super Heroes) by Julie Merberg
This board book features strong girls and women who, despite their generally skimpy clothing (ugh), pack a powerful punch of one type or another. The cover features Supergirl, who falls in love with Lois Lane in DC’s Bombshells United; Wonder Woman, who is canonically bisexual; and Batgirl, whose counterpart Batwoman is canonically gay in The CW’s latest addition to its superhero line-up. Boo-yah.

Children’s Books about Conception and Donor Insemination

Zak’s Safari by Christy Tyner Zaks-Safari
An engaging main character (Zak) and lovely images accompany this story of how one two-mom family came to be. For those looking for a simple way to explain donor conception within the frame of same-sex parenting, this book is the mother lode! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the terrible pun.) Visit the author’s website to read the book online and/or watch the vlog of how this book came to be.

It Takes Love (and Some Other Stuff) to Make a Baby by LL Bird
Like Zak’s Safari, this book employs colorful images and age-appropriate language and concepts to explain how kids in many lesbian-parented families are conceived through donor insemination. The author’s original crowd-funding video is still available on Vimeo if you’re curious.

It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H. Harris
Grade Level: 2-5. 88 pages. This book came recommended by my sister-in-law, who is not only an awesome human being but a certified social worker. It offers a detailed look at conception, and while it does focus at first on heterosexual reproduction, the book offers information on alternative conception as well as on how twins form and grow in utero. We’ve read through portions with our kiddos, but I suspect its clinical approach will find a more attentive audience among our daughters when they are a bit older.

Chapter Books & Middle-Grade Titles

Books with Lesbian Moms

best-friend-next-door

Best Friend Next Door by Carolyn Mackler
Grade Level: 3-7. 224 pages. Our seven-year-old read this library book over the summer and thought it was a “fun” read. She says she enjoyed that it was written from the perspective of two girls who live next door to each other, one of whom has two moms. They were born on the same day and their names are palindromes, which she thought was especially interesting. The online reviews say “charming, engaging, and supportive,” so there you go.

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue
Grade Level: 3-7. 336 pages. This was a family read for us, and Kris and our kids really enjoyed this book. I wanted to love it too, but alas, I didn’t. Sumac, the POV character, is nine years old when her grandfather with dementia moves to Toronto to live with her large, racially diverse family. Sumac has two moms and two dads, and the two couples co-parent their many children in an enormous Victorian house. As we made our way through the novel, the adult characters began to feel overly eccentric and Sumac too mature for her age. Four parents should offer an excellent safety net, but Sumac is left to parent herself through most of the tale and, as children are wont to do, does so imperfectly. While it’s an interesting and well-written read, I’m too ambivalent about the parenting style(s) to recommend this novel wholeheartedly.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker BradleyThe-War-that-Saved-My-Life
Grade Level: 4-7. 352 pages. We read this book as a family and absolutely loved both it and the sequel (see below). There were some very intense emotional moments, particularly around the main character’s abusive biological mother who appears only briefly (fortunately!), but the emotional upheaval is handled with sensitivity. Ada’s guardian, the central queer character in the book, ably helps her work through her trauma on her way to a happy-ish ending. Our oldest daughter thought the book “had really cool WWII facts,” and all three kids learned a lot about the Battle of Britain. They also learned about poverty, child abuse, class privilege, and found family in 1940s England. I can’t recommend this novel enough, although you might want to read it with/to your kids so that you can skip or explain some of the more intense sections. We omitted a couple of pages that went into detail about soldier injuries during the evacuation of Dunkirk—just a heads-up.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Grade Level: 4-7. 416 pages. Sequel to The War that Saved My Life. Same as above. We adored this book, but it does have adult elements—descriptions of anti-Semitism and concentration camps, for example—that we discussed with the kids at length. For us, this was another family read, although I expect that our girls will read both books in the series on their own when they’re older.

This-Would-Make-a-Good-Story

This Would Make a Good Story Someday by Dana Alison Levy 
Grade Level: 4-7. 320 pages. The main character has two moms, one of whom is actually named Mimi (like me) and is even a writer! The story, written in epistolary format, details the main character Sara’s cross-country train journey with her family the summer before she starts middle school. The narrative includes journal entries by Sara and assorted written materials—notes, blog posts, postcards—from other characters in the story. Full disclosure: we haven’t finished this book yet, but we definitely will.

Books, Comics, and Graphic Novels with Queer Girls

Princess, Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
Princess-PrincessGrade Level: 3 and up. 56 pages. Our girls went through a major princess stage (doh), so I was delighted to discover this alternative fairy tale that, for a while, we read at bedtime every night, over and over. As ComicsVerse writes, “Princess, Princess is basically a queer Disney fantasy, complete with adorable plus-size dragons and a wonderfully cute romance. The comic’s depiction of racially, sexually, and bodily diverse young women demonstrates that… one can be both a princess and a heroine at the same time—and discover love and self-validation along the way.” The book isn’t perfect—the evil older sister is troubling, and the characters call each other cruel names at times. But this queer-themed graphic novel got Kris and me through the princess stage, so we will forever be grateful to its author.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Grade Level: 4-8. 240 pages. This graphic novel is another favorite family read that we revisit regularly. Astrid, the 12-year-old protagonist and daughter of a single mother in Portland, falls in love with the sport of roller derby the summer before sixth grade. The novel explores her growing interest and proficiency in the sport during a multi-week summer derby camp—and her slow evolution away from her best friend from elementary school. While Astrid isn’t explicitly queer, she is definitely a tomboy who doesn’t understand her best friend’s interest in boys. Plus, you know, the book is about roller derby. Enough said.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh
Turf-Wars-oneGrade Level: 4-7. 80 pages. I bought this comic for myself after bingeing the Legend of Korra TV series from Nickelodeon when I was sick last year. In this follow-up to the series, Korra and Asami, the kick-ass female protagonists—*SPOILER ALERT*—become a couple. I’ve purchased each installment both for the representation and the story-telling, which is as excellent as the artwork. The Legend of Korra Turf Wars Part Two is similarly queer and awesome, and I can’t wait for the upcoming (September 4, people!) series conclusion, The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part Three. At this point, my kids have read the comics on their own, but I don’t think they find them as interesting as I do since they don’t understand the larger context. I plan to introduce them to the Korra TV show when they’re a little older.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
Grade Level: 5-8. 304 pages. I enjoyed this middle-grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl with a crush on the new girl at school. The class play—Romeo and Juliet, naturally—provides a backdrop for the narrative, which is lighthearted and easy to read. I would probably plan a reread before my kids start it since I wasn’t thinking in terms of them as the eventual audience, but in my imperfect memory, this was a sweet, enjoyable read. In fact, it has inspired me to consider tackling my own middle-grade queer girl novel someday, once I winnow down my to-be-written list.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
As-the-Crow-FliesGrade Level: 6 and up. 250 pages. I recently read this graphic novel based on a popular webcomic series and really enjoyed it. Thirteen-year-old Charlie, the story’s black, queer protagonist, is excited to head out on an all-girls Christian camp’s backpacking trip. But over the course of three days in the wilderness, she comes to realize that many of her fellow campers—and the adult trip leader herself—are racist and homophobic. The artwork, done in colored pencil, beautifully evokes the peace of hiking even as Charlie struggles with feelings of alienation. There was a bit much of the God stuff for an agnostic like me, and some of the dialogue skews a tad stilted and academic. But overall this graphic novel is really well done. I’m hoping an eventual family read will give rise to some good discussions about race, gender, religion, and feminism.

Supergirl: Being Super #1-4 by Mariko Tamaki
Grade Level: 5 and up. 208 pages. This limited four-book comic series is another one I bought for myself. I am a huge Supergirl (the TV series) fan, and this coming-of-age tale is one of the first Supergirl comics I ever read. In this high school story about the Girl of Steel, Kara’s best friend Dolly is an out lesbian who, as one reviewer notes, steals every scene she appears in. My girls haven’t read the series yet, but eventually, when they’re older, I imagine they will.

Our Current To-Read List

Books with Lesbian Moms

Love, Penelope by Joanne Rocklin
Grade Level: 3-7. 240 pages. Ten-year-old Penelope writes letters to her soon-to-be sibling, describing their moms, their city (Oakland), and the winning season of her beloved Golden State Warriors. And because the story is set in 2015, Penny also details the marriage equality decision that irrevocably (I hope) changed life in America for families like ours. I’m excited to get this one from our local library and share it with the girls as a family read.

The Pants Project by Cat ClarkeThe-Pants-Project
Grade Level: 4-9. 272 pages. This story features Liv, a boy born into a girl’s body. Like many of the books on my list, having two moms is more peripheral than central to this particular tale, according to the reviews I’ve read. Instead, the story revolves around Liv’s challenges as a trans kid in middle school, which, I imagine, presents more than enough conflict to propel the narrative. As a non-binary person who often skews more to the masculine end of the gender spectrum, I’m looking forward to reading and discussing this novel with our kiddos, too.

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
Grade Level: 5-7. 128 pages. Set in the early 2000s when civil unions were brand new in Vermont, this novel explores homophobia more than any other I’ve included on my list. According to the book’s blurb: “Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of one thing—she’s great at making pies—and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But a backlash against Vermont’s civil union law threatens her family’s security and their business.” From the reviews I’ve read, this would be another family read for us. While our kids know homophobia exists, they have mostly faced micro-aggressions rather than blatant bigotry. We would definitely want to talk through June’s experiences with them and offer additional information on the recent historical context.

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney GardnerYoure-Welcome-Universe
Grade Level: 7-9. 304 pages. Julia, a teenage graffiti artist with two moms, transitions from her deaf school into a mainstream suburban school with mixed results. As School Library Journal says, Julia “inhabits many minority identities (disabled, a person of color, the child of same-sex parents, an English language learner) without any one of them being the engine for the story… [T]his is a well-told, artsy coming-of-age tale that is also an excellent representation of a Deaf protagonist.” Looking forward to this one when the girls are a little bit older.

Books and Graphic Novels with Queer Girls

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
Grade Level: 3-7. 320 pages. When I was a kid, my hometown, Kalamazoo, was hit by a massive tornado that killed a number of people and left the city without power for a week. Maybe that’s why this book looks particularly interesting to me—it features a destructive tornado, sisterly bonds, a girl with a crush on another girl, and twins. This might just be another good family read for us.drum-roll-please.jpg

Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
Grade Level: 3-7. 336 pages. Speaking of Michigan, I just discovered that this writer is from Kalamazoo, too! Maybe that’s why her recent YA novel, a story of a young queer girl away at a summer music camp located in the wilds of Michigan, resonates with me. Another potential family read, I’m thinking.

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
Grade Level: 3-7. 224 pages. Set in the Caribbean, this story features a queer girl of color in a coming-of-age tale that includes “a dash of magical realism,” according to School Library Journal. Once again, maternal abandonment (à la The War that Saved My Life) and a massive storm serve as plot points. This book would probably be a family read so that we could talk about some of the more serious elements—bullying, ghosts, and racism, to name a few.

Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
Grade Level: 4-6. 128 pages. This is the first volume of the highly rated Lumberjanes comic series, which features diverse, bad-ass teenage girls solving assorted mysteries at a summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” According to School Library Journal, “Spunky, lovable characters sparkle with exuberant personality and challenge gender stereotypes.” Add in the developing relationship between two of the campers, and this sounds like a perfect match for our family a few years down the road.

not-your-sidekick.jpg

Not your Sidekick by C. B. Lee
Grade Level:  5-8. 296 pages. I’ve been hearing about this novel ever since it was published in 2016. The queer POC main character, Jessica Tran, has superhero parents, no powers of her own, and, embarrassingly, a crush on her parents’ nemesis. Assorted reviews call the story sweet, engaging, and lighthearted. I’ll probably read it on my own with an idea toward recommending it to the girls when they’re a bit older.

Straight Honorable Mention

There are, of course, countless books without queer content that we adore. I thought I would include some of our favorite pro-girl and pro-women titles. Pro-patriarchy content need not apply, naturally.

Children’s Book Faves

Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth BoeltsHappy-Like-Soccer
This book is nearly perfect in our family’s opinion: beautifully written and drawn; emotionally affecting without being overly sentimental; and, of course, focused on soccer. Sierra loves playing soccer, but her aunt’s work schedule prevents her from cheering Sierra on—until one night when Sierra makes a call and asks for help. Kris and I both cry pretty much every time we read this story, but in a good way. In the best way, really.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
A gorgeous, empowering story that features a woman whose grandfather, an immigrant, extracted a promise from her that whatever else she did with her life, she would try to make the world a more beautiful place. Feminist underpinnings and beautiful imagery make this story one that both moms and kids in our house have happily read again and again. 

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie LevyI-Dissent
A picture book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her lifelong commitment to standing up for what’s right? Um, of course we love it. I often walk into the living room to find the girls reading this book on their own, and it makes me happy every time.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
Chelsea Clinton has become my Twitter hero of late. I also love her children’s books (as does the rest of our family of five) and, in particular, this one’s fabulous blurb: “Chelsea Clinton introduces tiny feminists, mini activists, and little kids who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted.” Heck yeah!

Middle Grade and Chapter Books

Harriet-the-InvincibleHamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible (Book One) by Ursula Vernon
Grade Level: 3-7. 256 pages. This is book one in our favorite ever feminist alternative fairy tale series. Harriet isn’t your usual (rodent) princess. She cliff-dives, defeats monsters, and outwits fairy curses. Not only is Harriet a refreshing take on the prototypical fairytale princess, but Vernon’s snarky humor keeps parents laughing, too. We own the first five books and are about to pre-order book six. While we started the series as family reads, our girls are now reading these novel/comic hybrid books all on their own.

Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space #1) by Mike Maihack
Grade Level: 3-7. 176 pages. Historical sci-fi fantasy—is that a category? If not, it should be. The Cleopatra in Space series is fun and features a kick-ass heroine, but has some mature themes. A side character sacrifices himself to save his friends, and other characters are injured (or worse) as well. I’ve read these with my oldest daughter and skipped over the more violent parts. Probably not for younger or sensitive readers, but a fun concept that is well executed.

Zita the Space Girl (Book One) by Ben Hatke
Grade Level: 3-6. 192 pages. As long as we’re talking sci-fi and fantasy graphic novels that include strong girls, I should mention Ben Hatke’s story of a brave, confident Earth girl who inadvertently becomes an intergalactic heroine when she sets off to save a friend. Interdimensional portals, alien planets, and a variety of otherworldly characters make this a fun, satisfying read that, once again, engages adults as well as kids. I haven’t read books two and three, but their reviews are similarly positive.

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria JamiesonAlls-Faire-in-Middle-School.jpg
Grade Level: 4-7. 248 pages. This graphic novel from the author of Roller Girl is another family read (and reread) favorite. Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has practically grown up on the grounds of a Florida Renaissance Fair where her parents are full-time actors in residence. Home-schooled up to now, Impy has made the fateful decision to go to public middle school. As you might imagine, her transition into the world beyond the Renaissance Faire gates does not exactly go smoothly.

Miscellaneous

Reading the Rainbow: LGBTQ-Inclusive Literacy Instruction in the Elementary Classroom by Caitlin L. Ryan and Jill Hermann-Wilmarth
This book was written by friends of my aforementioned fabulous sister-in-law, and explores in depth an issue I am very interested in: the inclusion of LGBTQ-positive books and concepts in the elementary classroom. We need more early elementary curricula that include diverse families and individuals, dang it. That’s the only way (in my not remotely humble opinion) we will wipe out homophobia in our schools and communities. That’s why the books I’ve listed here are so important: They have the power to positively impact life for kids—and families—like ours.

Whew.

I’m sure I’ve missed some fabulous two mom and queer girl books, so please add your favorite related titles in the comments section, should you feel moved to do so. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing channels for authors.

In the meantime, as always, happy reading!

Advertisements

About Kate Christie

I'm a lesbian fiction author currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. To read excerpts and more of my novels, visit www.katejchristie.com.
This entry was posted in Book review, children's books, LGBTQ+, Parenting, Queer books and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Queer Mama Book Recs

  1. kannemeinel says:

    I give you three by Genta Sebastian. The first two are for younger children, the third for older teens. Excellently written.

    [Editor’s note: Riding the Rainbow (2015 GCLS Award winner and 2015 Rainbow Awards) features lesbian moms. The other two books don’t quite fit the theme of this blog as one was about gay dads and the other included mature content.]

  2. ranger says:

    Excellent and awesome! Just shared this on fb.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s