IDENTIFYING with a character in a book can really help children enjoy a story. But when most children’s family-centred books include a mum and dad, it can mean children from LGBTQ+ families are left out.
Author Jodie Lancet-Grant is hoping to help change that, through her children’s picture books which feature two mums or two dads. Her debut book The Pirate Mums was the first-ever story to feature a family with two mums to be read on CBeebies Bedtime Stories, and now her new book The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures, which includes a family with two dads, has been published in time for June’s Pride Month.
Lancet-Grant, who has twin daughters with her wife Samantha, explains that she wrote the books: “To show children with two mums or two dads that families like theirs are worth writing about, show kids who might grow up queer that they can have their own family if they want one, and show everyone that families come in all shapes and sizes.”
Lancet-Grant’s day job is in book publishing, and she explains she started writing after unsuccessfully searching for books to read to her children about families just like their own.
“A few years ago our daughters, who are now seven, started to realise our family, which has got two mums, was a little bit different to other people’s families.
“I’m a massive books person, so the first thing I thought was I’d seek out some stories that show families like ours.
“But what I found, to my real surprise and disappointment, was there was so little out there.”
The books she did find, like Heather Has Two Mummies, were written many years ago and were “quite old-fashioned”, she says. “There wasn’t anything that really showed the vibrant, fun, colourful children’s publishing that we see today.
“There were a couple of books about how all families are different, and I think there’s a real case for those books, but what I was really after was just some fun, colourful, interesting stories where the family happened to be one with two mums, or two dads. But there was nothing like that.
“I felt really sad about it, because I felt, as a parent, that I’d been excluded from this world of children’s stories.”
Her wife suggested she remedy the situation by writing a book herself – and that’s just what she did.
A few years later, The Pirate Mums was published.
“My daughters love the books – they don’t know it’s an unusual thing to have a mum that writes books, so they’re quite blase, but they’re proud of it,” she says happily.
“Because we’ve actively sought out the books that do exist that have two mums or two dads in them, they don’t see how my book is quite unusual.”
But while Lancet-Grant originally set out to write books for children from families like her own, she stresses that it’s just as important for other children to read them.
“I did initially write the books for my children and children like them, but what’s become super-clear to me over the last year is just how important these books are – maybe even more important – for kids with straight parents, because we want to teach our kids about love and acceptance.
“I think a loving, everyday gay relationship presented in the same way that kids see straight ones – by that I mean the mums and dads they see in the storybooks and on kids’ TV all the time – can have a massive effect on normalising these relationships.
“Because we learn our values young, it’s such a good time to be able to get these messages to children, but all wrapped up in a story – the story always has to come first.”
And Lancet-Grant did not want the two mums or dads to be the focus of her tales, saying: “I really set out to make the two mums or two dads a bit more incidental – there are lots of books that show families come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s something ‘othering’ about those books – by the very dint of your family being in one of them, it shows you’re different from the norm.
“That’s totally fine, but I didn’t want that to be the case – I wanted to write books that had a fantastic story and would take any child along for the ride, and that had two mums or two dads in them.”
She admits that in The Pirate Mums the two mums part isn’t completely incidental, as the book starts with the line ‘Billy’s family is not what you’d call ordinary’.
But Lancet-Grant explains: “The book is playing with the adult reader, be that a parent or a teacher, because an adult will probably automatically think that the reason Billy’s family isn’t ordinary is because he’s got two mums.
“But as the story unfolds, we see that actually it’s because his parents are pirates, and that’s the thing that’s unusual about them.
“It’s not really about the fact that he’s got two mums at all. You could tell the exact same story with a mum and a dad.”
The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures is published by Oxford University Press.