CA summer reading program to kick off with LGBTQ children's book

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 26, 2021
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California first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom has unveiled children's books for her summer book club. Photo: YouTube
California first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom has unveiled children's books for her summer book club. Photo: YouTube

California first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom will launch her 10-week Summer Book Club early in Pride Month with an LGBTQ children's book. Monday, June 7, she will be virtually reading "Grandad's Camper" by British author Harry Woodgate.

Their picture book, published April 6, features a granddaughter who helps her granddad grieving the loss of his male partner, whom she called Gramps. After they fix up his old camper van, the pair uses it to go on adventures together. It includes flashbacks of the men's travels together, while the book cover features a rainbow flag attached to the roof of the camper.

It is one of 23 books that Siebel Newsom has selected for the initiative aimed at promoting children's literacy and participation in summer reading programs hosted by local libraries throughout the state. She has partnered with the California State Library, the First 5 Association of California, and First 5 California on the book-reading program.

In response to a query from the Bay Area Reporter, spokeswoman for the Office of the First Partner Daisy Vieyra wrote, "Representation is important, and the first partner will be kicking off her first virtual storytime with a book related to an LGBTQ family."

"Grandad's Camper" by British author Harry Woodgate  

She added that, "'Grandad's Camper' is an endearing story about intergenerational kindness and understanding, featuring a young girl and her grandfather, who is mourning the loss of his husband."

In an emailed reply to the B.A.R., Woodgate wrote they are "so thrilled" that their book was chosen and excited the story will now reach more children and families.

"Picture books can be incredible learning platforms for celebrating the diversity of our communities and also for exploring complex subjects like loss and grief, so it means a lot that my book which focuses on both these things has been selected for the program," wrote Woodgate, whose U.S. publisher Little Bee published the book in partnership with LGBTQ watchdog group GLAAD. "'Grandad's Camper' grew out of my own desire to celebrate the elders of our LGBT community and also to honour cherished family memories, and I can't wait for it to be introduced to new readers."

Mimi Demissew, executive director of the LGBTQ-focused nonprofit Our Family Coalition, called the selection of Woodgate's book "amazing" when told about it by the B.A.R. She noted that LGBTQ older adults often go unnoticed in society despite their leading the way for the advancements in civil rights gained by the LGBTQ community.

"I think it is really great; the elders in our community are always forgotten," said Demissew, who has a 2-year-old son with her wife. "Because of everything they have done is why we have a stronger platform today to advocate for the better laws we have for the community. It is a sweet story."

The granddads in the story, she noted, had a relationship that was not always legally recognized like those of same-sex couples today, who won federal marriage recognition in 2015 in the U.S.

"They are losing a partner without a lot of recognition for having that partnership throughout their lifetime. It highlights a lot of things today's generation takes for granted," said Demissew. "It is really heartwarming and refreshing to hear people remembering our elders and being able to share their stories."

Woodgate did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Other selected books
All of the books selected for the summer reading program teach kids important social and emotional learning tools and highlight key values like diversity, self-love, and acceptance, noted the first partner's office in a news release about it. The chosen titles are geared toward children ages 3-12 and broken into the categories of pre-kindergarten, early elementary, and older elementary.

They feature a wide array of children with diverse backgrounds, such as Cozbi A. Cabrera's "Me & Mama," about a Black mother and her daughter, and Charleene Williing and Traci Sorell's "Indian No More," which features a 10-year-old girl forced out of Oregon who relocated to Los Angeles with her family when their Umpqua tribe, of which Williing is a member, is legally terminated.

There is also Shelly Anand's "Laxmi's Mooch," about a young Indian American girl's journey to accept her body hair, and Christy Hale's bilingual book based on the 1931 Lemon Grove Incident, in which Mexican families in Southern California won the first school desegregation case in United States.

"Summer reading programs are crucial tools to keep our children engaged and help unlock their curiosity and passion for learning," stated Siebel Newsom, who has four children — two daughters and two sons — with her husband, Governor Gavin Newsom. "Through these fun, free summer activities, entire families can build community connections, while children establish a solid foundation for the next academic year."

Each Monday between June 7 and August 9 a video of either Siebel Newsom or a special guest reading a book will be posted at 8 a.m. to the governor's YouTube channel. The books in June are themed around radical self-love and community; the July titles speak to resilience and strength; while the August selections focus on mindfulness.

The first partner's office will also be promoting them at 6:30 p.m. those Mondays on Siebel Newsom's social media accounts, as Vieyra noted that is "right around when most families with small kids are winding down and getting ready for bed."

Any family can participate in the virtual storytimes, as well as the free summer reading programs hosted by their local libraries. Children who watch a First Partner's Summer Book Club storytime or read a book from the first partner's booklist will be awarded a First Partner's Summer Book Club badge through their local library's summer reading program.

The California State Library is funding a bookshelf of books from the First Partner's Summer Book Club list for every library. Other public library summer reading programs can include virtual or in-person STEM activities, and arts and crafts.

"Becoming a stronger reader is the best way for someone to succeed — in school, at work, and in life. California's first partner knows that and we're lucky to have her spending part of her summer sharing stories and great books with California readers — particularly younger ones," stated California State Librarian Greg Lucas.

The program ties into First 5 California's "Talk. Read. Sing." campaign that encourages parents and caretakers to engage in verbal communication with young children as it is critical for their brain development.

"Talking, reading, and singing to young children helps to foster curiosity, deepen imagination, and increase brain development exponentially, providing fundamental building blocks for bright futures," stated First 5 California Executive Director Camille Maben. "The First Partner's Summer Book Club is a wonderful opportunity to facilitate this development — engaging children and the loving adults in their life in a good book, and instilling a lifelong love of reading in our youngest Californians in the process."

For more information about the First Partner's Summer Book Club, click here

Our Family Coalition will be hosting a drag story hour during its Toddler and Me virtual hangout from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday, June 25. Demissew told the B.A.R. she has been thinking about what books to feature and said Woodgate's "Grandad's Camper" would be "an excellent book for us to read."

For information on how to take part in the event, click here.

UPDATED 5/27/2021 with comment from Harry Woodgate.

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