Seven-year old Keesha is obsessed with South Africa. After learning about the country in school, her parents surprise her with a trip to the country, where she gets to go on safari, visit the beaches, and talk to vendors in the market. All with her two moms, of course.
Keesha’s South African Adventure is the latest offering from My Family! Products, a small New Jersey-based independent publisher which launched in 2011 with the goal of “creating a multi-cultural, positive, and affirming library of children’s books that feature LGBT families.” South Africa isn’t just a beautiful setting for a little girl to explore. In many respects, it’s a place where a family like Keesha’s has long been welcomed. In 2006, South Africa became one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and, unlike much of the rest of Africa, it has a strong legal framework protecting gay rights. Despite this, the country’s LGBT community still struggles with high incidences of violence and discrimination.
My Family! Products co-founder Cheril Clarke says the book is a projection of the “future that I hope to see,” where the fear experienced by LGBT families is a thing of the past. “All things change in time and we will get there,” she says.
Clarke wrote the book with her wife and business partner, Monica Bey-Clarke. The Clarkes first got the idea to start My Family! Products about eight years ago, when they were applying to become foster parents, and were looking for books that reflected their family. The couple couldn’t find much—and what existed didn’t showcase much diversity.
The Clarkes will celebrate their ten-year anniversary in January, and have trips planned to Thailand and South Africa next year. It was research for these trips that inspired Clarke to pick South Africa as a locale for the book, as well as feedback from friends who had visited and called the experience “life-changing.”
In the five years since My Family! Products officially launched, the company has published nine books featuring adoptive and LGBT families. The market for LGBT-themed literature has grown substantially (pdf, p. 290) in the last few decades, and independent publishers have contributed significantly to increasing representation, although this remains a challenge.
Clarke believes there is an ongoing need for the types of books that acknowledge the growing diversity of the family structure in America, where there is no longer one dominant type of family, but “constantly evolving family forms,” according to the Pew Research Center. “I still think it’s a really good idea to keep putting books out there so like this, so [families] don’t just have one or two, they can have a library to choose from,” she says.