Hanukkah starts tonight, but LGBTQ parents will have to look long and hard to find even a glimpse of a family like theirs in a picture book about the holiday. One book slipped under my radar until recently, and while it still only offers a brief glance, it’s just about all we’ve got.
Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Kristina Swarner (Kar-Ben, 2018), offers a holiday assortment of history, rituals, activities, songs, and recipes. Different families and historical figures are portrayed on each page. On one page, we see two women, wearing yarmulkes, standing on either side of a small table with a menorah on it. One woman is holding a baby; the other is lighting the menorah, with a small dog at her feet. While the two women could in fact be sisters, the scene is domestic enough that I see them as a couple; Publisher’s Weekly interpreted them that way as well.
To the best of my knowledge, the only other Hanukkah book for young children that includes queer people is My Family! A Multi-Cultural Holiday Coloring Book for Children of Gay and Lesbian Parents, by Cheril N. Clarke and Monica Bey-Clarke (My Family Products, 2010). It includes images of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
My Family Products also published The Wonderful Adventures of Benjamin and Solomon, by Elena Yakubsfeld and illustrated by Wei Guan (2013), about two Jewish students traveling in medieval Europe who hope reach their destination by Hanukkah, but the book isn’t really about the holiday per se. Additionally, although it contains beautiful illustrations, the publisher said in a press release that it’s aimed at young adults, so it doesn’t really count as a book for young children. (It’s far too wordy and the protagonists are too old.)
I’ll also put in a good word for The Lotterys More or Less, by Emma Donoghue, the second in her series about two same-sex couples (one male, one female) jointly raising their seven children. This one revolves around the holidays, and there are characters celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah in their diverse community. It’s delightful–but it’s a middle grade book, not a picture book.That’s it. That’s all we’ve got. Even though I try to stay very attuned to the world of LGBTQ-inclusive picture books, the fact is that Light the Menorah flew under my radar for several years, since the LGBTQ representation is so incidental. It’s an ongoing problem that I’ve written about before; we need more books that show LGBTQ families simply as part of a wider world, but there’s a catch-22 between treating queerness as an everyday thing and having those books be invisible to those specifically seeking LGBTQ-inclusive titles. And the brief glimpse of a same-sex couple in Light the Menorah, while welcome as one of the various families depicted, is hardly enough. Granted, Hanukkah is really a very minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but has taken on added meaning in modern times as a sort of counterpart to Christmas (which it isn’t really, but that’s another topic). There are a lot of great Hanukkah picture books available now, and some are even happily showing the racial and ethnic diversity of Jewish families. It’s time for one that shows LGBTQ people and families as well.
What About Christmas and Kwanzaa?
Christmas fares just marginally better, with
The Christmas Truck, by J. B. Blankenship, which stars a child with two dads; Santa’s Husband, by Daniel Kibblesmith; and Rachel’s Christmas Boat, by Sophie Labelle, about a child figuring out what name to put on her transgender parent’s present. Nondenominationally for the winter holidays, we have Over the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure, by Linda Ashman.
You’ll see quite a lot of gaps here. There are no Christmas picture books about a two-mom family, for example, and no LGBTQ-inclusive picture books about Kwanzaa (except for some pages in the My Family coloring book).
And Other Holidays?
Overall, LGBTQ-inclusive picture books about holidays of any type are in short supply. Just a few other Jewish holidays now have queer-inclusive books related to them: The Purim Superhero
, by Elizabeth Kushner (Kar-Ben); Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, by Rabbi Ari Moffic; and The Last Place You Look, about Passover, by j wallace skelton (Flamingo Rampant). There’s also the 1985 book Chag Sameach! (Happy Holiday!), by Patricia Schaffer, a book about all the Jewish holidays, which may have shown a two-mom family. (Look on the Havdalah page and decide for yourself.) Lesléa Newman, author of the classic Heather Has Two Mommies (Candlewick), has also written many wonderful picture books about the Jewish holidays, but the only one I know of with LGBTQ characters is Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail (Charlesbridge), where two minor male characters have their arms around each other in one scene. The only queer-inclusive book about a Muslim holiday is Moondragon in the Mosque Garden, by El-Farouk Khaki and Troy Jackson (Flamingo Rampant), in which three children encounter a magical creature on Eid al-Fitr. And Christmas aside, there are no LGBTQ-inclusive picture books about other Christian holidays, even Easter or Halloween. (And yes, there are a few other LGBTQ-inclusive picture books, including this very recent one, that show Jewish life, but not holidays per se.)
My suspicion is that there have been so few holiday picture books showing LGBTQ families because so many LGBTQ-inclusive picture books have been focused on the “issue” of LGBTQ identities per se. Pride, as an LGBTQ holiday, has a fair number of picture books devoted to it now, but other holidays get short shrift. I do believe it is important, however, for LGBTQ families and non-LGBTQ families alike to see images of LGBTQ families celebrating holidays from a wide variety of traditions, too. This offers representation for the former and can help build bridges across difference for the latter. And besides, picture books about holidays should simply be fun and joyous reads for anyone.
It’s notable that both Moondragon and Rachel’s Christmas Boat are from micro-press Flamingo Rampant; Love Remains and The Christmas Truck are self-published; the My Family! coloring book is from the My Family micro-press, owned by the authors. This shows the importance of small and self-publishers in addressing content gaps—like holidays—that larger publishers have mostly not touched.
I’d like to see many more holiday books with LGBTQ characters for all the major (and even minor) holidays of all traditions. I want them from small publishers who know the LGBTQ community well; I want them from large publishers who can still find #OwnVoices authors and illustrators and use their marketing clout to push the books out to a wide audience. I want books that are more about the holidays than about LGBTQ identities, so they are more likely to find readers among non-LGBTQ families, too. I want them to be more than just an image of maybe-kinda same-sex parents on one page (though in books about diverse families, we should be there, too). I want representation across the LGBTQ spectrum and across race, ethnicity, family structure, socioeconomic status, ability, and other dimensions of identity.
That’s a lot to ask, yes. But this is a season of rededication and miracles.
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