Author Lesléa Newman reflects on her groundbreaking kids' book Heather Has Two Mommies 30 years later
Thirty years ago a child named Heather was poised to strike a national nerve simply for having two moms and being the protagonist of her own story. In 1989 the world of children’s literature was virtually barren of any LGBTQ family representation when writer Lesléa Newman first co-published Heather Has Two Mommies with a friend, sparking a firestorm of repugnant protests, library book bans, and even entering the Congressional Record. EW caught up with the prolific author to find out how far Heather has come and how far we still have to go.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did passages of Heather wind up being included in the Congressional Record in 1994?
LESLÉA NEWMAN: Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire read parts of the book [on the Senate floor] as evidence of the destruction of western civilization as we know it. What really was the worst part of the whole thing is that he read in such a sarcastic voice dripping with hate. It was the opposite of what I was doing.
Even as a lesbian who went through the experience of conceiving a child with my wife, I was surprised to see that the first few editions mention how Mama Jane and Mama Kate conceived Heather. What made you incorporate that?
Originally I didn’t have it in, but one editor said, “Children know that two moms can’t make a baby, and you need to address this in the book.”
Do you think if you hadn’t included Heather’s conception, you still would’ve faced the initial uphill battle you had in getting it published, as well as the vitriol in the ’90s?
Yes, absolutely because I didn’t send it around with the conception scene in it originally, and nobody really mentioned that throughout all the controversy. A lot of people hadn’t even read the book. It was just the title. That’s all that was needed for people to really lose it.
Some of those hateful protests included an anti-LGBTQ campaign in Portland, Oregon, where Heather was said to be proof of a “militant homosexual agenda,” copies of Heather started disappearing from libraries across the country, and in Fayetteville, N.C., they attempted to ban the book.
I remember people blew up the cover on huge placards and carried them around. I remember Fayetteville—they were voting on an $11.4 million bond to build a couple of new libraries in the community, and if Heather Has Two Mommies was gonna be in any of those libraries, they would rather not build the libraries. Like my mother used to say, “This is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
Between the 20th anniversary edition and the current edition, Heather got some significant upgrades: Her moms are married (evident by a visible wedding band), and instead of crying after realizing she doesn’t have a daddy, she just wonders if she’s the only one in her class without a father. Did you initiate that?
Yes. When going back and re-reading the book, I just realized, well, that’s not anything to cry about. You know what Heather has are two loving parents.
What would you tell someone who thought that these books are only for LGBTQ families?
I would tell them that they would be doing their children a favor to expose them to as many different kinds of people and families as possible from as young an age as possible so that they can learn to celebrate, respect, and accept everybody whether they are similar to you or different than you.
When I take my kid to a children’s bookstore here in Los Angeles and see that in a shop with three massive rooms there’s only a single shelf of one bookcase that holds stories about families like mine, it saddens me that this has been the progress in 30 years. As the trailblazer, herself, how does this make you feel?
There definitely needs to be more, always needs to be more. I know lesbians who got ten copies of Heather Has Two Mommies at their baby shower, but wouldn’t it be great if they got dozens of books about kids with two moms, and they were all different?