Lawrence Schimel and Elīna Brasliņa’s two board books for toddlers, “Early One Morning” and “Bedtime, Not Playtime,” are delightful slice-of-life tales about families that just happen to have same-sex parents. Schimel’s clever networking has also made them perhaps the most-translated LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books ever and brought them to countries that have few such books already. The books have become a lightning rod for state-sponsored homophobia in two countries — but are also proving to be a tool to fight it.
With bouncy rhymes and bright illustrations, “Early One Morning” shows a boy waking up before his moms and sister and getting breakfast with a little help from the family cat. In “Bedtime, Not Playtime,” a girl is trying to get ready for bed with the help of her two dads, but the family dog wants to play instead.
Schimel, a Lambda Award-winning American author and translator living in Madrid, told me via e-mail that there are now over 30 editions of the books, in 25 languages, that have been published or will be soon. (Some languages have multiple editions to reflect regional variations.) He is in talks for more.
The many editions came to be after Schimel’s publisher in Spain told him his books, originally written in Spanish, were too expensive to print. He replied that he would seek other European partners so they could print a higher volume and reduce the per-unit cost.
Schimel reached out, finding partners like the only LGBTQ bookshop in Belgium, which “knew there was nothing for this age on the market,” and the Queer Zagreb festival, which normally does not do publishing but decided to publish these books because “Croatia needed them.”
The first co-printing in 2018 had versions in six languages, reducing the per-unit cost by 60 percent and making the project possible even for languages that took only a few hundred copies.
The books come out in the U.S. and Canada on September 14 from Orca Books and continue the spirit of international partnership. Schimel explained, “Since they were already changing the black plate [which prints the text] to do the English and Québécois editions, I asked if they would let some other publishers, like the Icelandic LGBT organization and a New Zealand children’s book publisher, piggyback onto their print run.”
“That’s something that has been extra special about this project, for me — the way so many people have worked together to make it possible to be published in so many different countries and languages,” he said.
Not everyone is happy about that, however. In Hungary, the books were published as a single volume by the Foundation for Rainbow Families (Szivárványcsaládokért Alapítvány). This past July, however, the county of Pest fined the bookstore chain Lira Könyv for failing to indicate that the book contained “content which deviates from the norm,” in violation of a law banning unfair trade practices. Lira responded by posting signs in all its stores saying that they sell such content — but continuing to sell it. A new law about to go into effect, however, bans sharing any LGBTQ content with minors. It also forbids books with such content from being displayed in windows or sold within 200 meters of a school or church, and requires them to be shrink wrapped. It remains to be seen how this will impact the book’s distribution.
In Russia, on August 16th, the charitable foundation Sphere, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, and the Russian LGBT Network published a Russian single-volume version themselves after no publishing house would work with them. Russia also has a “gay propaganda” law banning LGBTQ content for minors, so Sphere was required to release the book with a label marking it for adults only.
Sphere said in a press release that it did not intend to produce the book for commercial purposes. Instead, it is sending the book to regional LGBTQ organizations and influencers, along with information about Sphere’s campaign against the “gay propaganda” law, and asking for voluntary donations. Sphere also plans to ask LGBTQ people to share their families’ stories on social media in exchange for the book, to increase awareness about LGBTQ families in Russia. They ultimately hope to publish the book in greater numbers.
The book is challenging homophobia elsewhere, too. In March, Poland banned anyone in a same-sex couple from adopting children. More than 100 towns and regions in the country have also declared themselves to be “LGBT-free zones.” In Stuttgart, Germany, however, the LGBTQ advocacy organization 100% Mensch (100% People) is not only publishing the combined book in German, but for every copy bought, will donate one in Polish to the NGO Equality Factory in their sister city of Lodz, Poland, to be distributed free in that country.
Schimel observed, “Until the Hungarian government’s homophobic attack on the books, the most outcry over them had actually been because of the margarine.” In “Early One Morning,” the boy prepares a slice of bread with margarine (or “margarina” in the original Spanish edition). Schimel explained, “Some partners complained on principle (the Swiss insisted it must be butter, not margarine, as a matter of national pride!) and others (like the Hungarian translator) because the meter worked better with butter (vaj) instead of the long awkward margarine. And in Israel it’s now hummus!”
When Schimel first wrote the books, he never suspected they would have the “international reach” or the “international and political impact” they have gained, he said. “Elīna and I definitely set out to write books that were just FUN and featured queer families, but not about overcoming homophobia,” he added. “It shows how necessary all around the world stories like these are.”
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, with a searchable database of 750+ LGBTQ family books, media, and more.