The Gay History of America’s Classic Children’s BooksBreaking News
tags: books, gay history, LGBTQ history, childrens literature
IN 1998, WHEN my sons were still too young to read by themselves, my partner and I gave them a picture book called “Lucy Goes to the Country.” It’s about a cat who lives with two gay men; you can tell by the tchotchkes.
The book, then just published, was evidently meant to help normalize already boringly normal families like ours by using the traditional substitution of animals for people in order to illustrate how much fun having gay dads can be. But the plot rang no bells for us as it built to its crisis: When the “big guys” give a party for colorful friends at their weekend house, a beehive ends up in the baba ghanouj, Lucy winds up in a tree and a hunky fireman comes to the rescue.
“The Hunky Fireman” would be a fine title for a very different kind of picture book, but his presence in this one made me wonder about the intended readership. (So did the name of a town en route to the country: Peckerwood.) And if you stopped to think about it, “Lucy” seemed to argue that the gay dads, however full of fun, were inadequate: When the pita chips were down, they needed rescuing, too.
Maybe that’s why my boys didn’t love it. Among gay-themed children’s stories, they preferred “Frog and Toad.” No, I know: “Frog and Toad” — a series of four picture books by Arnold Lobel, originally published between 1970 and 1979 — is not gay-themed. But it’s not not gay-themed either. The title characters are best friends, both male, who essentially spend their lives together. Toad, shorter and wartier, is a worrier. Frog, sleeker and greener, is an ameliorator. They wear tight pants, collarless jackets and no shirts: outfits that would surely look great on the hunky fireman.