December 12, 2011

An Introduction

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:09 pm by pargoffa

As a part of my TE448 Course, we are to study literature and diversity. Over the course of the semester we have learned about various underrepresented groups in literature, one of them being the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals (also referred to as LGBTQ). As a prospective elementary school teacher focusing her area of studies on English in an urban environment, I was interested in learning how to bring books that highlighted underrepresented groups into the classroom, especially those pieces surrounding the LGBTQ community. Thus, for my project, I made it my mission to find five children’s books that are a good depiction of my chosen group. These are my findings.


December 11, 2011

The Sissy Duckling

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:05 pm by pargoffa

The Sissy Duckling
Written by: Harvey Fierstein
Illustrated by: Henry Cole
Aladdin Paperbacks, NY (2002).

SUMMARY:  Elmer was not like all of the other ducks in the flock. While all of the other ducks were boxing, building forts, or playing football, Elmer was painting, baking cookies, building sand castles, and putting on puppet shows. Elmer’s father, Papa Duck, was not happy with Elmer’s behavior, so he tried to teach Elmer how to play baseball. Elmer, not amused with the game as it was, missed all three pitches that were thrown to him. That night, he heard Papa Duck telling Mama Duck of the incident and how his son is referred to as a sissy. The next day, the school bully, Drake, makes fun of Elmer and chases him all the way home. After overhearing his father, once again, Elmer decides that it would be best if he ran away while the rest of the flock flew south. Shortly after their departure, Elmer hears a shot followed by a quiet whimper- it was a wounded Papa Duck. Elmer takes Papa duck to his new home where he nurses Papa Duck back to health and forms a new relationship with his father by engaging in all the things Elmer likes to do. When the flock returns, they are still discussing how Papa and Elmer went missing. However, out of the grass Papa Duck sticks up for his son. One by one the rest of the flock offer Elmer praises for surviving an entire winter in the forest, proving he was no longer the Sissy the ducks thought he was.

MY REVIEW: The Sissy Duckling is a great book for any child, or individual, who may be feeling like they do not fit in with the larger, stereotypical population. While I am aware that this book may fall into the category of struggling with gender identity, it is a good book to highlight the LGBTQ community as well. While there is more than just a single story for each group of people, it is in my personal experience that those in the LGBTQ community often struggle for their actions and others’ beliefs regarding those actions. Elmer, while never openly out-ed as a gay, bisexual, or questioning individual, faces these same struggles (such as preferring to bake over playing a sport). However, note how I say “openly out-ed.” On the first page, the author places heavy emphasis on the work “happy.” By definition, happy is a synonym for gay. This subtle message, for me as a reader, insinuated that Elmer was more than just questioning his gender role; he was questioning his sexual orientation as well- although in terms of reading this book to a young child, I do not think he or she would understand the double meaning. The author uses other words or situations in this book that made me hesitant in deciding whether or not it would make an appearance in my future classroom as well. For example, Elmer is called a Sissy throughout the entire book by the majority of his flock. Growing up, I was taught this was a derogatory term that hurt people’s feelings; I was also taught that fighting was never an option, yet Drake bullies Elmer harassing him until he has no choice but to hide. Overall, these two instances do not detract from the books exemplary status; therefore, while I may not choose to openly read it to my students because of the linguistic cues and violent insinuations, I would most definitely allow it to be on a shelf in my classroom library. The Sissy Duckling is a heartwarming story with vivid illustrations. Elmer captured my heart, and I believe he can capture the heart of anyone who picks the story up. He teaches a vital lesson that few books teach now days: birds of a feather do not always flock together, it is ok to be different.





December 10, 2011

A Tale of Two Mommies

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:59 pm by pargoffa

A Tale of Two Mommies
By: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrations by: Mike Blanc
Vanita Books (2011).

SUMMARY: A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager is just that. Basing some of the story line off of the illustrations only, the book appears to be about a boy whose two mothers took him to the beach. The tale starts off by him socializing with two other children, one a girl and one a boy. The children, who we can assume are either his friends or random playmates he found at the beach, begin to ask him numerous questions regarding his two mommies and who is in charge of doing what- the main character then responds with the appropriate answer. For example :

“Who’s your mom for climbing a tree? Who’s your mom when you scrape your knee? Momma helps me climb a tree. Both moms help me when I skin my knee. Who empties your pockets at the end of the day? Who teaches you what’s the polite thing to say? I empty my own pockets at the end of the day. Both moms know what’s the polite thing to say.”

The book also highlights the difference between which mom is which by referring to one as Momma, and one as Mommy. The different forms of pro-nouns are also printed in a red, italicized font. The question and answer continues in this format throughout the entire book.

MY REVIEW: Reading this book was exciting at first, but after the first few pages of the same general outline, it became incredibly boring. However, just because it did not hold my interest does not mean it will not hold the interest of, say, seven year old. Even I must admit, it was interesting to try and predict which mom would complete a certain task. This is because you cannot. The author has done a job well done in regards to shattering the common stereotype that if two females are together, one of them has to take on the masculine role. In other words, at least one person from the partnership must be what society deems as “butch.” However, this book does not portray that. Mommy is the one who coaches the softball team, and Momma is the one who helps the main character climb a tree. I also believe that the way the illustrator set up the pictures helps readers focus more on the fact a family is a family, and at the end of the day Mommy and Momma love their son rather than determining what stereotypical role each woman plays. The illustrations containing Momma and Mommy only show the lower halves of their bodies. There are only a few instances where the book goes above waist level, and in those instances, both of their bodies are being covered by books or there is a close up of their hands. The hands symbolize unity and show how both mothers help when their son is really in need, something any parent would do regardless whether it is a mother, a father, an aunt, a grandfather, etc. Overall, I think this book is a good way to show that a blended family does all of the same things and has the same amount of love to spread as the stereotypical American family. While I do not for see myself using this entire book in my future classroom simply because of the redundancy and length, I enjoy the idea of taking excerpts from it and using those since I do believe the story teaches a valuable lesson.



December 9, 2011

Babar’s Little Girl

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:30 pm by pargoffa

Babar’s Little Girl
An Original Laurent De Brunhoff Book
Jacket Illustrations, NY (1987).

SUMMARY: Babar’s Little Girl focuses on Babar’s daughter Isabelle. The book tells a story about Isabelle, who always smiles, sings, and skips on her family adventures. During one of them, Isabelle goes missing. While her family and siblings are worried sick, Isabelle is having the time of her life with family friends Boover and Picardee. Boover and Picardee live together. The three play all day and have copious amounts of fun, until they turn on the TV and see Babar announcing that his little girl is missing. Feeling horrible about the misunderstanding, Picardee, Boover, and Isabelle hang glide back to the palace where Isabelle is welcomed by her grateful family members.

MY REVIEW: Although the author never explicitly says that Picardee and Boover are a couple within the book, one can assume that it is implied. I am not the only one to feel this way, though. After reading numerous reviews on Amazon and blog like websites such as, the majority of the readers have come to the consensus that the fun, animal like characters are in fact gay, something that was confirmed by the author later in the article. Although the story never explicitly mentions the idea of homosexuality in the book, I believe that it would be a great way to introduce LGBTQ topics in the classroom. This is because it does highlight a homosexual couple in which case I, as a teacher, can introduce the topic, address issues, and show them that everyone is different but in the end we are all humans that love to do the same activities all humans do. At the same time, I liked this book because it introduces the topic in a subtle manner. Perhaps if I am teaching in a small town where certain beliefs are held, parents and administrators might not want me to openly present the material. I could still read this book to my class, and students would still get to see LGBTQ being represented. Thus, the book would cause minimal or no controversy, but this children would still be getting educated on a group not often highlighted in pieces of literature.

December 8, 2011

Who’s in a Family?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:00 am by pargoffa

Who’s in a Family?
By: Robert Skutch
Illustrations by: Laura Nienhaus
Tricycle Press, NY (1995).

 SUMMARY: The title Robert Skutch gave to his book, “Who’s in a Family,” is more than appropriate.  Skutch’s literary work coupled with Laura Nienhaus’ illustrations incorporates every type of family variation that may be possible. That is, only children, kids who live with a single parent,  kids who live with two parents of the same sex, children who live with a grandparent or aunt and uncle, children who have two families which insinuates a divorce or break up, kids who have pets, and those kids with siblings. The book also highlights different animal families such as lions who have several mothers, elephants that live together but separate from the opposite gender, and chimps who are raised solely by their mother. The books overall theme is that families are all different and regardless of which type of family a child comes from, all families love each other in the most unconditional way possible.

MY REVIEW: I firmly believe this book is crucial to have in every classroom. It not only features a variety of different ethnicities and cultures, it also features multiple types of families including individuals from the LGBTQ community, which is hard to find given it is such a controversial topic. Not only does this book feature two mothers much like in The Tale of Two Mommies, it also features two male partners who take turns making dinner for Robin, the daughter. Again in this book, the author and illustrator do a spectacular job at making sure that one gender role is not being favored over the other, and both partners have an equal responsibility. For example, Robin’s father appears to be setting the table while his partner cooks. In contrast, the female couple in the book is enjoying a nice day in the backyard with their two children and dog. I feel as this book can be extremely useful in the classroom when talking about family types. After reading the story, the author and illustrator have even provided a lesson one could conduct. They leave a page reserved for the reader to draw his or her family. Much like the cultural center we talked about in class, it may be beneficial to have each student’s family tree on display for the first few weeks. It will help students become more aware of the various types of families their fellow classmates posses because not every family is identical, whether it is because one student has four siblings and one has none, or where it is because one student has two dads and another has a dad and a mom. Even if a classroom is not very diverse in that it has a common theme amongst family make ups, this book highlights the differences in each family and is a way to expose those students who have not been exposed to certain make ups, such as families falling into the LGBTQ category.


December 7, 2011

And Tango Makes Three

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:00 am by pargoffa

And Tango Makes Three
By: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Illustrations by: Henry Cole
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Reader, NY (2005).

SUMMARY: And Tango Makes Three is the true story of two penguins named Silo and Roy who live at the Zoo near Central Park in New York. The story begins by explaining that every year girl and boy penguins find the most perfect mate and do family like things together, such as building a home. The story drifts for a big when the author decides to introduce Silo and Roy who are two inseparable boy penguins. Much like the other penguins in the zoo, they did everything together including bowing, walking, singing, swimming, showings signs of love be winding their necks together, and even building a nest for a baby penguin they could never have by themselves. When Silo and Roy noticed this the morning they woke up to find all the other boy and girl penguins with a baby penguin, they tried everything. Roy found a rock for Silo to sit on; however, as to be expected, nothing happened- until Mr. Gramzay, one of the zoo keepers taking care of the penguin house, intervened. He found an abandoned egg and replaced the rock Silo and Roy had been taking turns keeping warm. After much care, the two penguins heard a sound, and out of the egg came a baby penguin named Tango. Together, the two penguins took care of Tango. Furthermore, out of the entire zoo, Tango was the first penguin, and animal, to have two dads. Even though they acted just like all of the other penguin families, Silo, Roy, and Tango was the zoo’s main attraction.

 MY REVIEW: And Tango Makes Three is arguably one of the best books that highlight LGBTQ, and I must agree. It is a truly heartwarming book about two penguins who just want to be together and I stick by this statement regardless of what others say.  And Tango Makes Three is based on the idea of two homosexual penguins who acquire and adopt a baby penguin named Tango. Many individuals became irate with this story line (even though it is factual), causing the book to be extremely close to the top on the banned book list. In response to this outburst, co-author Justin Richardson released a statement to the New York Times in which he said “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks” Regardless of the controversy, I believe the authors did a stellar job, and the book in no way focused too much on the mating process of penguins, which was a good judgment call when writing a children’s book. With that in mind, I really do not see why this book is so controversial. It is a story about two penguins desperately trying to fit in by creating a family of their own. They are penguins that are being referenced, not even humans (not that it should make a difference). Personally, I do not find anything wrong with two living creatures, whether penguins or humans, caring for each other so much they want to do everything together. I think if we can find someone we feel that way for, then that is a truly special thing, whether it is a significant other, a best friend, or even a baby. I have heard of this common misconception that LGBTQ couples may not have the proper knowledge to take care of child. I have to disagree with this entirely, and I feel like anyone who has heard of Silo and Roy’s story would agree. The two penguins took care of Tango just like all of the other penguins. There appeared to be no issues. Thus, if presented with the opportunity and if they truly wanted it (like Silo and Roy did), LGBTQ individuals would be just like every other parent- because in the end every parent wants what is best for his or her child. And Tango Makes Three highlights this point perfectly by showing the way Silo and Roy teach Tango how to sing and swim. This book truly shows a parent’s love for his or her child, regardless of where that child came from due to family history. While some may argue this is not classroom friendly book, I have every intention of bringing it into my classroom and using it for a read aloud. This book is one of my favorites; I do not think words can do justice in regards to how touching and eye opening it truly is.

December 6, 2011

Critical Review: And Tango Makes Three

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:03 pm by pargoffa

Children’s Books
By: Sarah Weeks
Published:  June 19, 2005
Retrieved From:

Finding a scholarly review for And Tango Makes Three was the hardest part of this entire project, which I did not think was possible, as finding five children’s books that portrayed LGTBQ individuals proved to be quite challenging. However, all of the articles surrounding the book merely pointed out the fact that the book was on the top of the banned book list for images of homosexuality and religious preferences. After what felt like hours of searching, an article published by Sarah Weeks of the New York Times came to my rescue. This review intrigued me from the get go. Not only because the author enjoyed the book as much as I did, but she is not afraid to tell readers of the review that the story is about more than just two gay penguins. Her review automatically starts by listing off the various family types, those who adopt, those whose parents are divorced, and even mothers who have surrogates. The bottom line is this “Every child’s world centers on the family unit. Although the specific elements that make up a family come in an endless variety of sizes, shapes and colors, the common thread is unconditional love and acceptance” (Weeks, 2005). The only critique I have of this review is that she did not highlight the fact the book is about penguins. Yes she mentions it, and she also covers that the book is based on factual accounts; however, she neglects to fight the reason this book is banned. While reading, I took note that the penguins were homosexual; however, they did not make accentuate it even though it is a key part in the story. For my reading, I also failed to pick up on any cues of religious preferences. So I was left with the question, why is this book really banned? After reading Week’s review the only thing I can think of is that it is in fact because the story involves two male penguins. I was a huge fan of the book, and Weeks appeared to agree. She stated that the book was “well-written, perfectly paced… and provides gentle-water colors which aptly convey the penguin action…” She goes on to say “Happily, and surprisingly, ”Tango Makes Three” rises above the message it carries and becomes that rarest of birds, a ”message book” that’s also a really good story” (Weeks, 2005). After reading her review, and having a chance to read the book for myself, it is a piece of children’s literature I would love to one day have in my classroom.

December 5, 2011

To Wrap it Up

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:15 pm by pargoffa

This project has taught me a lot regarding finding underrepresented groups of individuals in literature. First thing is first, it is a challenge. I spent countless hours in my public library searching for books, walked up and down grand river checking every book shop, and finally wound up and Everybody Read’s in downtown Lansing- a store that is too few for its kind. When I completed gathering my books, I had an even bigger revelation. No matter what type of family is being represented, or what the circumstances are for the family coming about in that way, one thing remains the same: a family, regardless of its type is based on unconditional love and support, a theme I found in each of my five book choices. In And Tango Makes Three, Roy and Silo are determined to have a family of their own. When they finally do, both penguins care for her, teaching her tasks vital for survival. In The Sissy Duckling, Elmer’s mother supports him in all of his endeavors. Even though his father is skeptical and critical of his son at first, he realizes his son is special and has talents all his own which causes him to stick up for the son who he once called a sissy. In a Tale of Two Mommies, the main character is questioned by two peers. They are curious as to what mother takes care of him in a variety of situations. Although sometimes the two mothers altar tasks, when their son is hurt or needs tending to, both mothers are there to provide a shoulder to cry on and a hand to patch up a scraped knee. In Babar’s Little Girl, Babar’s daughter is cared for by family friends until her family is scared senseless and puts out a missing persons advertisement. Finally, in Who’s In a Family, each family is shown having fun in a very loving manner. Regardless of the family types exhibited in any book, in this case the five books regarding LGBTQ individuals, it is clear that the message is the same: although we are all different, we are all special in our own way, and loved by those we surround ourselves with.