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‘Good start’ in Surrey

Two gay-friendly books okayed

IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED. Surrey Kindergarten teacher James Chamberlain can use two books with same-sex content starting this fall. Credit: Robin Perelle

“It’s a step in the right direction,” says James Chamberlain, referring to the Surrey school system’s newly approved, gay-friendly books.



“I’m pleased,” the gay Kindergarten teacher continues. “It’s a good start.”



The start comes just a few weeks after Surrey school trustees upheld their ban against three children’s books featuring same-sex families. Chamberlain submitted the books for approval six years ago, sparking several rounds in court and considerable public outcry.



This time, the proposed books skipped the school board and went directly to one of its special committees for consideration. The committee’s instructions: find some appropriate books featuring same-sex families by the end of June.



The result: Surrey Kindergarten kids could see two new books depicting same-sex families in their classes this fall. But at least one of the books is garnering lukewarm reviews.



The book in question is called Who’s in a Family, by Robert Skutch. The committee’s 14 members-including two of the original books’ most vociferous opponents, trustees Heather Stilwell and Kim Evoy-unanimously approved it Jun 25.



Chamberlain is not surprised the book gained their approval. “That’s because there were only two pages in the book on same-gender families,” he remarks in a dry tone.



Who’s in a Family is a good book and it does present a variety of family models, he notes. But its gay content is quite limited.



Chamberlain is more enthusiastic about the second book he and his fellow committee members approved, called ABC: A Family Alphabet Book, by Bobbie Combs. It’s an excellent book, he says. “It specifically addresses the issue of same-gender families and shows them involved in everyday activities.”



Not everyone shares his enthusiasm.



Though all but two of the committee members eventually approved the alphabet book, Stilwell and Evoy both tried to block it. Stilwell seemed particularly distraught about the book’s cover illustration, which features two dads looking in on a sleeping toddler. She also objected to the book’s letter A illustration, which includes two moms waking up in their bed.



“She just had tunnel vision on those two pages,” Chamberlain says. “She just reacted emotionally.” She didn’t even look at the appropriate curriculum criteria, he adds.



Joanna Anonychuk agrees. A straight parent and member of Surrey’s district parent advisory council, she, too, sat on the special committee and has been following the book banning battle for some time.



The trustees’ objections were not “entirely unexpected,” Anonychuk notes. But she was a bit surprised by how strongly they reacted.



“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the pictures,” she continues. “I don’t care if they’re in bed.”



In fact, Anonychuk thinks both new books are welcome additions to Surrey’s book list. They’re really good resources, she says. It’s important for kids from same-sex families to have some strong resources where they can see themselves reflected, she adds.



But the two books alone won’t be enough, she adds.



Chamberlain agrees. He’s still planning to submit more book recommendations this fall.



This committee is just getting started, he says.



So, it would seem, is Stilwell. Two days after a majority of committee members approved the new books, Stilwell told the Surrey Leader that she was being inundated with complaints.



Chamberlain says he wouldn’t be surprised if parents challenge one or both of the books this fall. But they won’t win, he adds. Curriculum experts have already examined the books and approved them.



Anonychuk is ready to face whatever backlash may come. “This is about respecting people’s rights and being inclusive,” she says firmly.