Now a modern classic, the children’s book “Heather Has Two Mommies” is the perfect Mother’s Day book, times two.
“When the book first came out, we didn’t think it was going to become what it became,” its author, Lesléa Newman, explained by phone from Massachusetts.
That’s because it almost didn’t happen. “Nobody wanted to touch the book,” she said. In 1988, she’d tried every avenue — mainstream publishers in New York, children’s book publishers, LGBTQ publishers — but all had said no to her book idea about a little girl whose parents are Mama Jane and Mama Kate, a lesbian couple.
Newman had been inspired to write the book after running into a lesbian mom who told her, “There are no books that show a family like ours.” Despite the rejections, she and a friend, Tzivia Gover, decided to bring out “Heather Has Two Mommies” on their own.
They crowdfunded analog-style, printing letters and licking envelopes, raising about $4,000; Newman threw in money of her own. They found an illustrator and a printer, got an ISBN number, and “Heather Has Two Mommies” was published by them as In Other Words Publishing.
“We were not bona fide publishers,” admitted Newman. When the LGBTQ publisher Alyson Books, which had recently published “Daddy’s Roommate,” suggested it take over the publishing role, she was happy to let them.
As the culture wars of the 1990s heated up, “Heather Has Two Mommies” became a lightning rod. It was banned and challenged, the subject of public debate and railed against in Congress. In a typical 1993 attack, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, told The Times that “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Daddy's Roommate” would “bring God-fearing people together in a noble crusade” against them.
By the end of the decade, “Heather Has Two Mommies” was the ninth-most challenged book of the 1990s, landing higher on the list than “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and Madonna’s “Sex.”
Yet “Heather Has Two Mommies” persisted, getting into the hands of welcoming readers, librarians and booksellers. It has never gone out of print; a 25th-anniversary edition, with updated text and new illustrations, was published by Candlewick Press in 2015.
Because of its unique publishing history, it’s not easy to find those first copies of “Heather has Two Mommies.” About half of the original In Other Words printing was spoken for, with the books being distributed to the people who had donated an average of about $10 to help get it published.
Late last month, a true first edition surfaced on AbeBooks, a website that centralizes sales of used and antiquarian booksellers nationwide. It was listed for $3,000.“The price for this particular copy of ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ — listed for sale by Nudel Books from New York — indicates that the title now has collectible status. It’s about time,” wrote AbeBooks’ Richard Davies.
“One key element in a book becoming collectible is cultural impact and ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ was one of the first to depict same-sex parenting in an era when gay parenting was frequently challenged,” Davies continued.
I read Newman what Davies had written next: “Although later editions are easily found, first editions of this book are extremely scarce.”
She laughed. “There were 4,000 of them printed. I have some in my basement. Maybe I should put them up on eBay.”