Nothing warms a gay or lesbian parent’s heart like seeing representations of our families in children’s media. Two new kids’ CDs set those representations to music.
The first, “The Super Secret Seashell Cave,” is an audio-only album by the team that produced Dottie’s Magic Pockets, the first live-action DVD for kids with lesbian and gay parents and their friends. “Seashell” brings back the cast of the DVD, including lesbian-mom Dottie and her puppet friends, to take children on a musical adventure in search of the eponymous cave. On the way, they meet new friends, including a squeaky squirrel, a beetle with two moms and a monkey adopted by a baboon.
Creator and writer Tammy Stoner developed the storyline from a tale she made up for her own 6-year-old son. There is little specifically “about” lesbian or gay families in it, although there are clear gay and lesbian characters. Rather than feeling like a “special” album for kids of gay and lesbian parents that still sets them apart, Seashell feels like what the whole next generation of children’s music should sound like — inclusive, fun and revealing of the society around us.
Actor Jen Plante, who plays Dottie, explains, “We’re really just trying to reflect the world that exists for kids right now. There are kids from different families who play together and go to school together. It’s simple. It’s not this big heavy-handed message.”
Stoner adds that while they have screened the DVD to great response at LGBT film festivals and on two R Family cruises, many screenings have also been hosted by “traditional” families. She says lesbian- and gay-inclusive children’s media is just as needed, if not more so, by those families, “not for seeing their own images, but for explaining to their kids about the parents in their children’s classes and about their other family members.” She also notes she is trying to reach out to the adoption community, both gay and straight, who likewise need more images to reflect their lives.
Outreach and wide distribution is more possible with a CD than a DVD, she asserts. Indeed, the CD builds upon the standout feature of the DVD, composer Allyson Newman’s music. With its catchy beats, clever lyrics and light educational elements (e.g., counting by fives), it holds its own against any of the mass-marketed children’s music around.
The one song that touches most overtly on family structure, “Who’s In Your Family?” speaks of many types of families: gay, straight, single-parented and more. If it feels a little anthemic, it is kept from cloying by silly lines like, “Who’s in your family? One dad or three aunts. Who’s in your family? A rooster who wears pants.” One need only imagine LGBT families and friends singing the song together on an R Family cruise or other LGBT gathering to realize that anthems, after all, are written for a reason.
The other new album, singer-songwriter Susan Howard’s “Warm Sun,” has a very different tone. It is a collection of disparate songs by a single artist, not a musical story with an ensemble cast. Songs like “Big Girl Bed” skew it toward a slightly younger audience than that of Seashell.
Howard, a lesbian mom who was taught guitar by Dan Zanes (before he began his own epic career in children’s music), has created songs about everyday life that range from soothing to rockin’. Three of the album’s 12 songs are explicitly about gay or lesbian families: “Hanging with My Moms,” “Daddy, Papa and Me” and “I’m Adopting a Brother,” which features a two-dad family. (Single-parent families may feel a bit left out, though.) As with Stoner and Plante, Howard says she wanted to go light on the messaging, and instead focus on “cool songs that were upbeat and fun for kids to jump around to.”
In that, she has succeeded. Her bouncy approach in the song about adoption is a particularly refreshing change from the sappiness often associated with media about the topic. The almost-punk “Pretzel Eater” is perfect for young rockers. “I’m Invincible,” contains the line, “Even strangers want to be near me,” which seems ill-advised.
Both “Warm Sun” and “Seashell” represent a step forward in gay- and lesbian-inclusive kids’ media, however, by focusing on the fun that could happen in any family (some of whom have lesbian and gay members), rather than on “lessons” that often seemed designed to counter negatives that some children may not have run into yet.
Indeed, the Dottie franchise, building on its existing fan base, could very well become the first gay- and lesbian-inclusive children’s media phenomenon. “It’s been this whole second life,” says Plante about playing Dottie. “I’m on Facebook [as Dottie], I’m e-mailing kids all over the world. It’s been crazy. We have this little teeny-tiny DVD and I’m getting notes from people all the time. I feel very lucky to be a part of it.”
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.