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March 25, 2009

Author: Children need diversity in books

ONEONTA _ Families are created differently, and sharing that fact early can help children understand others and themselves, the author of ``Heather Has Two Mommies'' said Tuesday.

Leslea Newman read her book in Lee Hall at the State University College at Oneonta, then led a discussion with the group of 25 listeners that included male and female elementary education majors and faculty.

Newman, of Northampton, Mass., was visiting the college for a presentation late Tuesday night titled ``You Can't Be a Lesbian _ You're Jewish'' at the college's Center for Multicultural Experiences.

At the earlier program, she and the students discussed that children may live with a variety of family configurations, including with a single parent and partner, with two parents living in separate homes, and in heterosexual or same-sex marriages.

``There's a whole constellation out there,'' Newman said. ``If you can be as inclusive as possible, that's just better for everybody.''

But silence initially answered Newman when she asked students what they would do if a school administration said they couldn't read a book such as ``Heather Has Two Mommies'' or how they would respond to children who say they have two mommies. A few undergraduates replied they would read the book, an answer Newman quietly favored.

Some parents may object to books about gay and lesbian parents being read to young children, Newman said. Parents may fear that exposure to homosexual characters will influence their children, said Newman, a self-described voracious reader who found no book that ``turned her straight.''

As a Jewish girl growing up in Brooklyn in the late 1950s, Newman said she saw little in the media that represented her origins. The lack of diversity enhanced her sensitivity to isolation that children might experience, she said, and she worries about the ``gay kid'' who won't find any message that says ``you are absolutely OK just as you are.''

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