Reading The Rainbow is an original regular feature at Musings From Neville’s Navel. I’m a lesbian bookworm who loves to geek out about books and gay stuff, so why not talk about both subjects at once?! Basically, I review books with LGBTQ+ characters and/or themes, discuss the pros and cons of each, and tell you which stories are worth your time!
Title: Heather Has Two Mommies
Author: Lesléa Newman
Genre: Picture book
Length: 32 pages
Published by: Alyson Books
Date of publication: 1989
The simple and straightforward story of a little girl named Heather and her two lesbian mothers was created by Newman and illustrator Diana Souza because children’s books that reflected a nontraditional family did not exist, but a firestorm of controversy soon ensued.
Previous Reading The Rainbow posts may be found here.
The grandmother of LGBTQ+ picture books, Heather Has Two Mommies has long been on my TBR list. How could it not be? I want to write for children someday, want to write stories could appeal to a little gay kid not too different from who I used to be – and without authors such as Lesléa Newman paving the way, I would not have this opportunity.
I always find it difficult to review picture books since they’re so short, but I’ll do my best.
Newman has an excellent grasp of what draws children into a story – namely, repetition. Heather has two hands, two feet, two pets, two mommies, et cetera. All the best pictures and, indeed, many older stories such as myths and legends and religious texts make use of repetition and lyricism.
The message at the heart of this book comes near the end: “The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.” For a book published in the eighties, it shows a wide range of families, from adopted siblings to grandparents as surrogate grandparents. There’s some racial diversity here, too, in addition to an illustration of a child in a wheelchair.
While I’m on the subject of the illustrations… while I enjoyed Lesléa Newman’s storytelling, Diana Souza’s illustrations left me rather less than satisfied. The book has in fact been republished with new pictures by Laura Cornell, which are much more engaging than the originals. My local library didn’t have the newer edition, though, which is why I chose to review this version. I would definitely choose the updated edition if I were to read this aloud to a child!
It’s not even that the black-and-white illustrations of the 1989 edition are a bit bland; while that color palette can certainly be dull, I’ve read some excellent picture books + graphic novels told that way! (Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Jeff Smith’s Bone series both come to mind.)
It’s more that, um, some of the illustrations are just downright WEIRD. Like, what exactly is up with Heather’s dog on the front cover? That’s not a dog, that’s an eldritch horror. It looks like it wants to gobble her up any minute now. What is this, Little Red Riding Heather and the Big Bad Wolf?
But I digress.
I would recommend this book to…
- Little kids learning about different types of people + families
- Those interested in studying the history of LGBTQ lit, especially gay children’s lit
See, the thing is I wouldn’t just grab this off a shelf and start casually reading this to a child. It definitely seems like a book to TEACH, not to READ, especially if like me you’re stuck with an older copy.
I wouldn’t say Heather Has Two Mommies is an un-engaging story, but it’s not an exceptionally fun one either. It just kind of… exists. Good for introducing little kids to the idea that everyone is alike in some ways and different in others, but not really something I would give as a gift.
May actually be of more interest to older readers, given its significance in the canon of LGBTQ+ literature.