‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ – Watershed story is revised, updated

Author Leslea Newman
Author Leslea Newman LEANNE ITALIE [ap]

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Newman, a full-time writer and poet at the time, chronicles Heather’s love of all things “two,” including her moms, one a doctor and the other a carpenter. When Heather joins a home-based play group – changed to “school” in the new version – she is saddened when teacher Molly reads the children a story at nap time focused on a daddy.

As the children chime in with their fathers’ occupations, Heather bemoans, “I don’t have a daddy,” when asked what hers does for a living. The original story has her tearing up as she wonders if any other family looks like hers. The update has the children chiming in with the work of their mommies AND daddies, and it eliminates Heather’s tears.

The process of getting Heather published in 1989 was a slow one.

“After I wrote the book I sent it to many, many publishers. Small presses, large presses. Children’s book presses told me to try lesbian presses. Lesbian presses told me to try children’s book presses. Nobody was really interested,” Newman said.

There were about 50 turndowns. That’s why she co-published the book with a friend who had a desktop printing business. The two found an illustrator and financed the endeavor mostly from $10 donations, promising each contributor a copy from the 4,000 they printed up.

Soon, writer and businessman Sasha Alyson came knocking. He had just put out another picture book, “Daddy’s Roommate,” about a divorced father who lives with his same-sex partner, when he spotted Heather in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, bookshop and offered to take it on.

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Heather quickly took off and the repercussions – for both Newman’s book and “Daddy’s Roommate” by Michael Willhoite – were big.

Opposition to the books in New York City, primarily among members of one local school board in Queens, contributed to the downfall of schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez. He had defended them as optional reading for elementary school classrooms in a broader “Children of the Rainbow” curriculum intended to encourage teachers to better embrace diversity.

Both books landed at the center of a federal court battle in Wichita Falls, Texas, after Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church, waved them around during a sermon on “Sodom and Gomorrah” and blasted them as anti-God and unsuitable for children.

He and other opponents took to checking the books out of the local library without return, only to have supporters drop off new copies for loan. The City Council, on a 4-3 vote, decided to take the issue to those with valid library cards, allowing for 300 to demand the books be moved from the children’s section to an adult shelf. A judge deemed the effort unconstitutional and the city didn’t appeal.

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