Look on any bookseller's website and you'll find a long list of books about children with same-sex parents. Some attempt to explain how children were conceived or adopted, and others reassure children that having a family that's different is okay. As a gay parent, I'm glad to see this list, but the books I buy my 4-year-old are not about having same-sex parents, or adult relationships, or political correctness. Instead, they're about kids doing kid things and thinking kid thoughts while their two moms or two dads pop up here and there, as parents are inclined to do from time to time.
One of the nice things about kids' books is that they build self-confidence by normalizing children's experiences. Just as children with heterosexual parents read books that mirror their families without making the parents' relationship the focus of the book, children of same-sex parents benefit from reading books that feature families like theirs. But, of course, kids' favorite books are centered on a topic that toddlers care about almost exclusively: themselves!
1. Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me
By Leslea Newman
Each of these books is about a little kid going about his day--eating, playing, taking a bath, napping, and doing it with the help of one parent or another. The books are more like nursery rhymes than stories, and will capture the attention of infants and 3-year-olds alike.
Why I like it: These books are classics in their straightforwardness. Carol Thompson's illustrations are gorgeous, colorful, and soothing.
Why my 4-year-old likes it: "Because it says what happens every day."
2. Keesha and Her Two Moms Go Swimming
By Monica Bey-Clarke and Cheril N. Clarke
Keesha is a little girl whose moms take her swimming at a pool, where she has fun splashing with other friends. When she meets a little boy who has no friends and no toys, Keesha does what her moms taught her and makes a new friend.
Why I like it: The book is written very simply and the illustrations are crisp and cheery. Different kinds of families are depicted, but the book is really about Keesha being kind and making new friends.
Why my 4-year-old likes it: "Because I want to swim with Keesha."
3. ABC: A Family Alphabet Book
By Bobbie Combs
A version of typical alphabet books ("A is for..."), this book illustrates everyday things from children's lives, such as snow, ducks, and lunch, for each letter of the alphabet. It's not a story, it's an alphabet-learning aid, but the illustrations are so detailed that your toddler could easily make up her own stories.
Why I like it: Same-sex parents are shown doing mundane things like baking cookies and going to the aquarium in wonderful, careful illustrations.
Why my 4-year-old likes it: "Because I will tell you tomorrow why."
4. The Different Dragon
By Jennifer Bryan
Noah asks one of his moms, Go-Ma, to make up a bedtime story about him and his cat Diva, so she tells him a tale about adventure on imaginary seas. When Noah suddenly requests that the story include a crying dragon, Go-Ma has to think fast. She tells Noah about a dragon who is sad about having to act fierce all the time, and Noah, the hero of the story, helps him figure out that he can just be a "regular" dragon who plays badminton and eats ice cream.
Why I like it: The Different Dragon is not only a good book that happens to have same-sex parents in it; it's a good book, period. The story is engaging, interesting, and well-written. The illustrations are beautiful and memorable.
Why my 4-year-old likes it: "Because it has a dragon in it."
5. Everywhere Babies
By Susan Meyers
Every page of this sweet book for young readers celebrates the adorable and lulling world of babies being loved and cared for in their different families. The book is intended for young children, who are likely to find themselves and their family in its pages.
Why I like it: It's impossible not to smile when you look at the masterful, intricate illustrations of cute babies and happy families in this book.
Why my 4-year-old likes it: "Because all the babies are quiet."
6. The Purim Superhero
By Elisabeth Kushner
All his friends want to dress as superheroes for the Jewish holiday Purim, but Nate has a different idea. His dads talk to him about the meaning of the day and help him figure out his own costume. Nate learns about the power he has when he does something that is important to him and that reflects his own individuality.
Why I like it: This is a lovely story that can serve as an opportunity to learn about different traditions people celebrate.
Why my 4-year-old likes it: "Because he made his own superhero."
7. The Family Book
By Todd Parr
The Family Book shows different kinds of families on each page: families in which everyone looks alike, families in which everyone looks different; families that live close and families that live far. The message is simple: Each family is different and special but all have something in common.
Why I like it: You'd recognize Todd Parr's illustrations anywhere. They're bright, rich, and, like his words, have a sense of humor that will make both kids and parents smile. Like many of this author's books, this story promotes positive self-regard and values such as love, self-esteem, and tolerance.
Why my 4-year-old likes it: "Because it has aliens."
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