I am a Catholic and I believe homosexual acts are sinful. That being said, I know parents, who are not opposed to homosexuality, but who are concerned about this infiltration of gay activism into children's programming and literature because they quite correctly believe that age 5 to 7 is a bit too early to be having these discussions with our kids. But things are even worse than that. This is not the 1980s when sitcoms featuring tough topics were prefaced with "a very special episode" language that prepared parents to talk with children. Oh no. I am quite convinced that the makers of these cartoons and books would prefer we parents don't know that our children are being introduced to gay characters. They don't want us to highlight it or have serious discussions with our kids. They want our kids to simply accept these characters as the norm.
This summer I have been actively seeking out new, fun books for Meg. In the past week, I have previewed three middle-grade books that include gay characters or endorse a gay political agenda of some kind. One of the books I have only researched and have not read. I began researching the Flashback Four series by Dan Gutman. The series had recently been recommended to me and I thought Meg would love the historic emphasis of the books. As I worked my way through parent comments, I found one parent who mentioned the Titanic book from the series includes a discussion of gay marriage. This parent stated she had no problem with this issue being discussed among adults, but questioned why the topic was being introduced to her child in a book about the Titanic. She was not prepared for her child's questions about gay marriage, because it never occurred to her that he would encounter it in a book that was in no way related to the topic. I, for one, am glad her son mentioned his questions to her. So many of our children would simply read it, internalize it and never ask their questions. Then we as parents lose our ability to guide our children.
A few weeks ago, I excitedly ordered the first book in a middle grade mystery series that I had heard wonderful things about. The Wells and Wong Mysteries are set in the 1930s and are heavily influenced by the golden age of British mysteries. Meg loves mysteries (as do I) and I nearly handed the book to her to read first. But, then I decided to read it myself. I am so glad I did. Almost immediately, the book referenced teachers who had split after a homosexual relationship. As the book progresses, the girl school detectives are thrown out of a cupboard by an older girl. Wells states, "She only wants us out of there so she and Belinda Vance can canoodle in there. Betsy North says she caught them at it last week." It is not okay to put this type of content into a middle grade novel. Moreover, if the book does contain this type of content, there should be alerts to parents everywhere so we are prepared to discuss the topic with our children. Instead, the homosexual content of this book is kept fairly quiet in its numerous reviews.
The third book I previewed this week was The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This book is a Newberry Honor book and is widely loved and recommended. Undoubtedly it is a beautifully written book that addresses hard topics like disability and abuse as well as war time bombings. That being said, the book also semi-subtly indicates that the woman who takes in the children during the evacuation of London is a lesbian who is grieving the death of her partner and has been rejected by her vicar father. The true problem with this element of the story is that homosexuality is equated with the disabilities addressed in the book. The protagonist's mother views the protagonist's club foot as a sign of the devil. Clearly it is not. Her brother's left-handedness is viewed as the sign of the devil by a teacher. Clearly it is not. Susan's homosexual relationship is viewed as sin by her father. Aren't we to deduce that such thinking is backwards and uneducated?
Many people argue that children will miss the homosexual elements of this book. I suspect that is wishful thinking by those who otherwise love this book. Perhaps some children will miss the homosexual themes, but many will not. Recently, my four-year-old asked me if a family can have two mothers after seeing two women with children at a bakery. If she can pick up on such things, I'm pretty sure my eight and nine-year old would understand that Susan is gay.
Moreover, even if children don't understand the homosexual themes now, they will at some point. If a Catholic school or teacher recommends this book to them, there is a strong chance the student will come to believe that the school or individual also believes that viewing homosexuality as a sin is as backwards as viewing a clubfoot as the devil's mark. We as adults have the sophistication to appreciate a book while not agreeing with all of its contents. I can honestly say I liked The War that Saved My Life, while I disagreed with this element. Children do not have that sophistication as readers. If we recommend a book to them, they assume we are recommending its contents in their entirety. At a minimum, parents should be notified of the contents of this book so they can be prepared to talk about this topic with their children. Everyone pretending the kids won't get it will only empower this tendency to sneak homosexuality into middle grade books.
Why do I keep emphasizing the need for parents to talk with their children when their children are introduced to a homosexual character? Quite simply, middle grade children are soon to enter puberty. They will be facing enormous amounts of confusion under normal circumstances. It is not uncommon for children to question their own sexuality during this time and I strongly suspect that being inundated with so many homosexual characters will only increase this tendency. Some kids may honestly struggle with questions about their sexuality, but for most this questioning will simply be a phase or fear during puberty. It is important that parents have an open-line of communication with their children about homosexuality and that cannot occur when parents are not even aware that their children have been introduced to the concept of homosexuality.
On a side note, both the Wells & Wong Mysteries and The War that Saved My Life play on a rewriting of history that I find very annoying. I first noticed in the recent BBC Marple series the suggestion that women living together in the early Twentieth Century were all actually lesbians. Women greatly outnumbered men during that time in Britain and they often shared homes for economy. Suggesting those relationships were sexual is a ridiculous rewriting of history that is attempting to suggest that homosexuality has always been more widespread than it actually is. The message is working by the way. According to a Gallup Poll, Americans believe 23 percent people are gay. The reality is that only 3.8 percent are gay.
We as parents and educators need to take a stand here. It is not okay that our children are being politicized in this way. It is not okay that publishers are sneaking these topics and characters into books without proper warning to parents. We, as parents, may need to create better resources for reviewing literature and television programming for our children (if you know of some that already exist, please pass it along in the comments). We may need to rely on classics for our children and encourage the production of more appropriate children's literature in the future. For now, I am taking a stand and saying the current state of children's literature and programming is not okay.