Lerone Landis wrote ‘Gabrielle’s Gift’ so his daughter could see herself and a family that looked like theirs
Landis and his husband, Danny Valle, had daughter Gabrielle, now 6, through surrogacy. Landis is black and the biological father; Valle is Hispanic; their egg donor and surrogate was white. And the media hasn’t seemed to catch on to that kind of situation.
“There are very few children of color in animated movies or cartoons,” Landis said. “Gabrielle never said anything about it, but Danny and I were aware of it.” Even fewer of those stories with racial diversity portrayed a family with two dads.
It was important to Landis and Valle that their daughter see someone like herself in print. When Landis didn’t see what he was looking for in the children’s books available, he did something about it. The result was Gabrielle’s Gift, published by IngramSpark.
The reaction to the book has been favorable; since its publication last November, it has been honored with a Purple
“Finally, a book my kid can relate to,” he said other parents have told him.
In the story, Landis makes no direct reference to the racial diversity in his the family. Gabrielle wants a kitten for her birthday. Both dads approve of the idea, but only after she understands the responsibility involved. While Gabrielle’s Gift is the story of a girl in a diverse family receiving a birthday present, the title also refers to Landis’ gift to his daughter.
Landis said he wasn’t trying to rewrite Leslea Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies or Michael Willhoite’s Daddy’s Roommate, two trailblazing books that introduced same-sex parents into children’s literature. He even calls Newman an inspiration. Landis has co-hosted Lambda Weekly for more than 15 years, and Newman has appeared as a guest. He counts her books among Gabrielle’s favorites. Donovan’s Day, about a boy preparing for his moms’ wedding day, is one Gabrielle rereads regularly.
“Leslea did it already,” he said. “She paved the way.”
Instead, Landis wanted to tell the story of a family who does regular family things.
He said in his family, they’re not talking about same-sex marriage every day with a 6-year-old.
“We’re doing family stuff,” he said. “We’re doing homework or going to grandma’s.” Or planning for her birthday and getting a kitten.
They’re not always talking about the interracial make-up of their family, either, though at one point, Gabrielle thought she was adopted; as a family, they discussed that he was her biological dad and “a very nice woman carried her for us.”
After writing the story, Landis hired Bill Young to illustrate it. Using photos of the family, Young showed the diverse family Landis had in mind.
After it was printed, Gabrielle wanted to take the book to school to prove to her friend that a book had actually been written about her. Her dads were hesitant, but she was insistent. Landis imagines it was blown out of proportion to the point of her talking about who would play her in the screen version.
Finally they relented, and she brought Gabrielle’s Gift to school. One of her teachers saw it and liked it.
“Well, let’s read it in front of the class,” her teacher said, and later asked Landis for a copy for the school library to help others in the school understand kids in their school come from all types of families.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 24, 2015.
Other books for same-sex parents and their children
It’s not just Heather who has two mommies. National groups like the American Library Association and Welcoming Schools want to make sure children from all backgrounds are included in libraries and literature.
One group making sure all kids and families matter is the ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table through the Rainbow Project and its annual Rainbow List. The list, published in collaboration with the ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table, is a bibliography of books with significant LGBT content aimed at youth up to 18 years old.
Among the group’s recommendations for beginning readers:
Emma and Meesha My Boy: A Two Mom Story by Kaitlyn Considine, illustrated by Binny Hobbs (2005). Emma’s two moms teach her to be nice to her cat, but Emma prefers yes instead of no.
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah Brannen (2008). Chloe is concerned not about her uncle’s marriage to another man, but she will lose his attention.
Among its recommendations for young adults:
In Our Mother’s House by Patricia Palaco (2009). Marmee and Meema, along with their children, are similar to their neighbors, but not everyone sees them that way.
Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon (2008). Ben and his two dads move to rural Montana where Ben finds it hard to deal with having two dads than he did in their previous urban home.
More information about the GLBT Round Table, including Rainbow Lists from previous years, may be found at Ala.org/glbtrt/glbtrt.
Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, also releases updates its list of books for LGBT children and their families from birth to 18 years old. More information, including resources for teachers, counselors and schools, can be found at WelcomingSchools.org.
— James Russell