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Children's Literature  
 
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Gay- and lesbian-relevant themes and issues resonate throughout both classic and contemporary works of children's literature. Intense, even quasi-romantic, relationships between same-sex pairs are common in many texts from the nineteenth century, when the domain of children's literature first appeared as an entity separate from adult literature. Generations of children have enjoyed the warm of such novels written for a youthful audience as Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Even many of the novels and poems appropriated from the ranks of adult reading material for use with children are charged with homosociality, even lesbian and gay eroticism. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain portrays an intense relationship between the protagonist, Huck, and the escaped slave, Jim, one that critic Leslie Feidler has recognized as .

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Similarly, Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, which has appeared in several illustrated editions for children, contains passages that both explicitly and symbolically portray erotic contact between two sisters, Lizzie and Laura.

That these works and others have raised relatively little controversy regarding such content can be partially attributed to the commonly accepted belief that homosexuality is a "phase" through which children and adolescents pass; all these texts end with a passage into adulthood that involves the breakup of a same-sex pair.

Furthermore, childhood is traditionally seen as a time of innocence; in the past, representations of romantic love and eroticism were simply dismissed as irrelevant and invisible to children, as long as they remained relatively veiled or did not encompass the portrayal of an identity or lifestyle.

But lesbian and gay writers, critics, and activists have come to recognize how such veiling and tentativeness contribute to among heterosexuals and self-loathing among gays and lesbians. This awareness has dovetailed with a general trend as children's literature has become increasingly and explicitly politicized.

In recent years, children's texts have been written to challenge directly sexist, racist, classist, ageist, and finally, heterosexist ideologies. Most of the homo-positive works for very young children, picture books, attempt to normalize lesbian and gay relationships by focusing on the experiences of happy families headed by two parents of the same sex.

Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite explores the love and support that can exist in a gay household from the perspective of a little boy who is happy to receive nurturing from both his Daddy and Frank, his father's lover.

Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman not only validates the parenting skills of lesbians, but also answers the question "how" by explaining artificial insemination in elementary language. Gloria Goes to Gay Pride, also by Lesléa Newman, deals delicately with the issue of hatred, as Gloria, the daughter of two lesbians, encounters homophobic demonstrators at a gay pride parade.

Finally, The Generous Jefferson Bartleby Jones, by Forman Brown, celebrates the love present in one gay family by exploring the comic consequences for a boy who brags so often that two fathers are better than one, that his friends become jealous and borrow both of his dads.

All these works have been the subject of intense debate as libraries and school districts struggle with parents and pressure groups that have attempted to ban these books and many others that recognize and applaud diversity among families and individuals.

This celebration of diversity is expanded upon in several recent books for older children and adolescents, ones that move beyond such simple validation and actually tackle the problems of growing up as a lesbian or gay individual in a homophobic society.

One of the first books that dealt in a relatively honest way with this issue was Ruby by Rosa Guy, published in 1976. Although this novel ends with vague indications that the lesbian desires of its protagonist were just a phase, it does explore successfully the difficult terrain of urban poverty, violence, and homophobia in the African-American and Caribbean-American communities.

Much less tentative in its approach to adolescent female homosexuality is Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, which traces the development of a love affair between two high school students, Annie and Liza, who are finally forced to deny their sexual identity in public when a scandal erupts around their friendship with a lesbian teacher.

Importantly, however, these characters never deny their identity to themselves. And even though it was written in 1982, this novel remains timely in its honest representation of homophobia among teenagers and in the school system.

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The cover of the tenth anniversary edition of Lesléa Newman and Diana Souza's Heather Has Two Mommies published by Alyson Books in 2000.
Image provided by lesleanewman.com.

  
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