"Families come in all shapes and sizes!": Why we need to see diverse families represented in children's books

Published on: 12 May 2021

Gareth Peter is the author of My Daddies!, an adorable picture book celebrating a same-sex parent family. Gareth shares his experiences of being a parent and why it's so important that all families are able to see themselves in children's books.

The best job in the world

Hey there, I’m Gareth and I’m exceptionally proud to say that I’m a children’s author. Surely it’s the best job in the world? You can be creative and wacky and best of all, your words can take young readers on remarkable adventures. This blog has allowed me to think back over my own adventures and see how they shaped the person I am now.

I knew I wanted to be a dad from a very early age. I was an only child and was brought up in a small village in Northamptonshire. The only problem was… I realised I was gay. I say this was the problem, but it was more the fact that I didn’t know any other gay people and I didn’t think I would be able to start a family, in the traditional sense.

It was the 80s/90s and Section 28 prevented my generation learning about different family types. I grew up feeling that I was slightly different… but this was maybe because all I wanted to do was work in the theatre, jazz hands and all.

Theatre was my escape and a Palace of Stories where gay people were joyously welcomed.

Roll on several years to my time at university, where I grew as a person and learned to love who I was. But I never forgot my yearning for parenthood. It wasn’t until I formed a lifelong connection with my partner, Mark, that the subject beckoned. We made a home together, in Nottingham, a new life, and to me it was now the time to look at growing our family… although we already had two very furry huskies!

Becoming a dad

I’ve always loved telling stories. I have written ever since I can remember and my theatre work was an extension of this. My songs were poems to music, where the music served as the texture and colour of the piece - similar to the pictures of an illustrated book. I was then lucky enough to start getting my work performed, but this hit a new height when I ran a children’s theatre school. Seeing the energy and passion of these young people was a truly life-changing experience. And this cemented two things: one - that I needed to be creative and write, and two - that I really loved helping young minds grow. And so, my partner and I started to seriously talk about how we could become dads.

We discussed surrogacy, but for us, the idea of adopting and giving a new life to a child that needed it, spoke volumes to us. And so, we nervously started the process, and like any good rollercoaster it had its ups and downs.  Adopting is a very personal and heart tugging process, but eighteen months later a little man waddled into our lives. And instantly our lives changed… completely for the better. And the very first time he looked at me and uttered the word ‘daddy’, I was transported back to teenage me and the hopes of hearing these words.

I’ve had many awesome experiences in my life, but adopting will always be number one.

We then adopted again, two years later and things magically changed once more. We seem to learn and grow, every day, and that is really cool. With little ones comes the chance to get lost in stories again. Reading every day is such an important thing to me and now I get to share this with my sons.

Looking for our family in books

Yet, finding representation in children’s books wasn’t as easy as it should have been. I love all picture books, but there really weren’t many that featured families like ours. This wasn’t a problem for my boys, as they loved everything I read (and sometimes re-read 1000 times). I know several books off by heart, and I’m sure they do too. In many ways picture books are like theatres, the large book encases the child and you are taken on a journey, from overture to finale… and if I ‘performed’ them well, then I could take a bow at the end. But I couldn’t seem to find many books that spoke about our family dynamic or even adoption.

I feel that if you see the world through the eyes of a child, you see it as an accepting and tolerant place.

And so, representation in picture books is exceptionally important. It helps every child learn that there are different types of people and, importantly to us, different types of family.

Any time I saw a new diverse book at the library, I’d get it out. But the more I read, the more I felt that I actually had a story to tell. That I have a perspective that could speak to all range of families and young people. And that is what I decided to do. I initially started writing picture books for my boys, to entertain them.

Families come in all shapes and sizes

I never thought a book like mine would ever get published. Maybe I felt it was full of issues.But I’ve come to see, with the help of my wonderful agent and publishers, that my books are not ‘issue’ books: they are stories that help shine a light on diverse families.

If my stories help a child see themselves with in the text, or learn that it’s okay to have two dads, then they have exceeded my wildest dreams. 

I write things that I love, things that I care about and things that are important to me. Writing is like an extension of your mind and heart, and I hope this comes across in my books. But of course, they are now not just MY books, as they are beautiful pieces of team work that have been enhanced by the editor and most importantly, the illustrator. They are shaped into new ‘theatres’ that will allows other to escape into. And I hope they love them too.

When a child of a blended or LGBTQ+ family sees the My Daddies book, I hope they will see themselves.  But when a child from another dynamic sees it, I hope they will accept that families come in all shapes and sizes.

Win your very own copy of My Daddies!

My Daddies! is reviewed here as one of our New Books We Love in May. Follow Gareth on Twitter for updates.

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