No indoctrination in our stories, say authors

‘Gay books’ protested in Malta have faced opposition elsewhere

When Jennifer Bryan, author of The Different Dragon, found out that her children’s book was at risk of being banned from Maltese schools, her reaction was frank: “Have you actually read the story?”

First published in 2006, The Different Dragon is about a boy named Noah and his two mothers, who create a story about a dragon who doesn’t want to be fierce any more.

“What you’ll see is a delightful bedtime story where the fact that the boy has two moms is completely incidental to the narrative,” Dr Bryan, who holds a doctorate in counselling psychology, told this newspaper.

“There’s no indoctrination happening; just a mirror or a window, depending on who the reader is.”

The Different Dragon is among 14 titles donated to the education ministry by the gay rights movement and opposed by a number of parents who argue that sexuality should not be taught at such a young age. They have campaigned on Facebook against distribution of the books in schools.

Some parents fear a broader agenda to indoctrinate children into becoming gay or transgender. Civil liberties minister Helena Dalli, meanwhile, has said she welcomes the dialogue but suggested that plans to distribute the books will not be shelved.

“When I decided to write a book about families over 10 years ago, I knew I had to include all types of families,” said Todd Parr, author of The Family Book. “I didn’t invent the types of families that are in it.”

The Family Book, aimed at children just learning to read, features bright, whimsical illustrations of human and animal families of all kinds: ones with step-parents, two mothers or fathers, adopted children and single parents.

But all families, the book says, are more alike than they seem: they hug each other, they help each other to be strong, they’re sad when they lose someone they love.

“In a complicated world where children struggle to cope and understand, I feel that anything you can do to help will make them better people as they grow,” Mr Parr said.

“This book does nothing more than help children understand that all families are special and important no matter what kind they are.”

Nevertheless, the book has encountered controversy before, with the author citing recent similar situations in Illinois in the US and in Venice.

Also no stranger to controversy is Linda de Haan, co-author of King and King, which has become one of the most challenged books in the US, according to the American Library Association.

When contacted by this newspaper, Ms de Haan sighed: “Not again.”

King and King tells the story of a young prince forced by his grouchy mother to marry a princess. None of the candidates she brings to meet him catches his eye, however, until he meets Prince Lee.

According to Ms de Haan, despite the controversy, the many children she has read the book to over a period of 15 years have never reacted strongly to its gay content.

“They’re more interested in the cat,” she said. “They can identify with the feeling of being told to do something they don’t want to and they enjoy the happy ending. That’s the beauty of children: they just see the story as it is.”

Excerpts and illustrations from the books

The Different Dragon (right)

“I know that there’s a lot of different ways to be a dragon, and being fierce isn’t the only way you have to be. You can be however you want.”

King and King (right)

“At last the prince felt a stir in his heart. It was love at first sight. ‘What a wonderful prince!’ The wedding was very special. The queen even shed a tear or two.”

The Family Book (above)

“Some families adopt children. Some families have two moms or two dads. Some families have one parent instead of two. All families like to celebrate special days together.”

Timeline of the controversy

July 29: MGRM donates a small set of books on diversity to the education ministry for distribution in State schools.

September 30: Campaign is set up to oppose the books.

October 16: Evarist Bartolo assures “concerned parents” that there are no plans to distribute the books to students.

October 19: Education ministry spokesman says books are being examined by education officers and could still be distributed.

October 23: Helena Dalli suggests the books would be distributed only after an information campaign for parents and teachers.