HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES, by Leslea Newman, is a story of a lesbian couple who decides to have a child through alternative insemination. At three years old, Heather joins a play group where it is suggested for the first time that she has no daddy. While the children are drawing pictures and discussing their diverse families (children with two daddies, one mommy and no daddy, a mommy and step-father, adopted family and nuclear family) the teacher acknowledges that "each family is special."
HEATHER HASTWO MOMMIES has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in school districts and with parents and other adults. This is a lengthy story which can be seen as an "explanatory book" because of the focus on spelling out how Heather's family began. Part of the story is dedicated to: how Heather's mommies were friends for a long time, fell in love and decided to live together, how they created a family, visited a fertility doctor and extended their family with a child. There is even a page or two on the types of careers the women have. Mama Jane, the biological mother, is a carpenter and Mama Kate is a doctor.
The discussion of alternative insemination includes visiting the "special" doctor, putting some sperm in Mama Jane's vagina, and the sperm and egg meeting in the womb. This detail is needed to explain how Heather was created without a father. This section makes for interesting conversation among eight year olds, for example, who are beginning to question and understand the world of sexuality and family configurations, or even six- or seven-year-olds who are wondering how a child cannot have a father because "you need a mother and father to make a baby."
These issues and the book's length may cause the book to be considered inappropriate for casual reading with children in a school setting under the age of six. However, it may be an interesting selection to help support discussions with individual children on different types of families or, more specifically, for lesbian parents needing to carefully explain to their children how they were created. This was the first of a wave of literature which explicitly depicted and discussed a lesbian-headed family in the U.S. (published in 1989). For many families, this book was extremely helpful because it addressed some of the concerns of young children of lesbian parents which were not addressed in other children's literature.
One somewhat confusing aspect of the book is that while the black and white illustrations were appropriate for young children, the text seemed more appropriate for older children. Because of its illustrations, and by altering the text, this book can be used with young children because there are interesting depictions of the women hugging each other, of Kate's hands on Jane's womb when she is nine months pregnant, and of the women caring for Heather in a number of instances. The details in each illustration, and the way the black and white sketches do not prohibit the audience from detecting various ethnic and racial differences among the children makes them find contributions to works for children. At the same time, some of the details of the illustrations are incongruous with the story. The children's drawings of their families, for instance, are extremely detailed for 3-year-old children, many of whom are not yet doing representational drawing. This small criticism, however, should not keep parents or teachers from reading the book to young children.