When Lesléa Newman wrote Heather Has Two Mommies, her only goal was to offer the children of lesbian parents a story they could see themselves in. Unable to find a traditional publisher for the book, she worked with her friend Tzivia Gover to raise four thousand dollars and they put out Heather on their own.
It wasn’t long before Heather became a magnet for controversy: in Oregon, anti-gay activists used it as evidence of “the militant homosexual agenda”; in New York, debate over the book contributed to the downfall of the chancellor of the school district; and in Texas, its presence in public libraries occasioned the creation of an adults-only check out counter. Heather Has Two Mommies ultimately became the ninth most-challenged book of the ’90s.
Now, 25 years after it was first released, Newman is putting out an updated version of the seminal book. In the five years since the latest edition, Heather had gone out of print, but Newman was still receiving emails asking where to find it. “People were clamoring,” she says. To meet that demand, Newman collaborated with Candlewick Press to put out a new edition, featuring revised text and full-color illustrations by Laura Cornell.
Newman was excited to revisit her story. She tightened up the prose and made a few tweaks to the story, but the biggest change was the omission of a foreword or afterword. She felt, she says, that “the time for explaining was past. We just wanted to present it as a children’s book for children.”
The story itself is so sweet that it’s hard to believe that so many people objected to it. Heather has a happy family with her two moms and two pets. When she starts school, she learns that each of her classmates has a family of his own, in organizations which range from a boy who lives with his mom, dad, and brother to a girl who lives with her grandmother and their two puppies. “Each family is special,” Heather’s teacher says. “The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.”
As obvious as that message may seem, Newman still believes deeply in its importance. She points out that no one is born believing families like Heather’s are wrong—that has to be taught—and she hopes Heather can help to counterbalance the still widespread prejudice against LGBTQ families. “A book like Heather Has Two Mommies can really teach not tolerance—which is a word I really don’t like—but acceptance, appreciation and celebration,” she says.
But Heather’s story is really meant for the children who have two mommies, just like her. Growing up Jewish in the 1950’s, Newman felt the pain of not seeing herself in the stories she loved. “When I first saw a Jewish children’s book I was 27 years old,” she says. “I read it and the tears were just streaming down my cheeks. I just felt so grateful to see a book about a Jewish family.” So when an acquaintance mentioned that there were no books she could read to her daughter showing families like theirs, Newman was inspired to write one. Even now, she thinks lesbian moms have a hard time finding books that show families like theirs.
Newman feels that it’s vital for children to see their own families represented in print. To support her point, she cites a couple of anecdotes about children who felt a deep connection to the book: a girl who wrote her a letter insisting that the book was written just for her and a boy who had crossed out Heather and replaced it with his own name. “It’s very clear that a book can make a child feel like ‘I’m not the only one. There’s somebody else like me. I belong; I have a place in the world,’ ” she says.
Given the social changes over the last few years and the generally positive reception of her more recent books, Newman is hopeful that people will be more welcoming to Heather Has Two Mommies this time around. “Maybe,” she says, “Heather will have her day in the sun to shine, and nobody will rain on her parade.”
Alex Heimbach is a freelance writer in California.