By Judy Bolton-Fasman
Last Sunday, at an event at Boston’s Temple Israel, author Meryl G. Gordon spoke about her new book, The Flower Girl Wore Celery, a children’s story about a flower girl who strews her petals down the aisle at a same-sex wedding. According to Gordon, the idea for the book was inspired by a very personal love and borne out of necessity: her son’s nuptials. “At the time we were looking everywhere for a book that would prepare our flower girl Emma for a Jewish wedding with a same-sex couple,” she said, “We couldn’t find anything.” Frustrated, Gordon decided to write her own children’s book in which a little girl, also named Emma, is surprised that two women—one of whom Gordon purposely gave a gender-neutral name to—were being married. To add to the book’s overall joviality, fictional Emma confuses words like ring-bearer for ring-bear and the color celery for the actual vegetable.
Gordon was in town to receive formal plaudits from Keshet and read from her award-winning book to a room full of fans of all ages, many of whom identified with the main characters. Gordon’s delightful book, her first, is one of two titles that won Keshet’s inaugural national book-writing contest in 2011; it finally saw publication this year. Keshet was founded in 1996 and “works for the full inclusion and equality of LGBT Jews in Jewish Life.” Its book award is among the organization’s innovative initiatives that acknowledges and honors Jewish LGBT families.
“Children want to see the type of family they have reflected in a book,” said Gordon. “Future generations of Jews will be looking for a story like The Flower Girl.”
Like Gordon, Idit Klein, who came on board as Keshet’s first executive director in 2001, as well as her colleagues, were also troubled that there were no published Jewish children’s books with LGBT characters. “We heard from same-sex couples who shared how painful it felt to never see a family in Jewish children’s literature that looked like their own,” said Klein. As a result, Klein and her staff responded by inviting writers to submit children’s book manuscripts that specifically included Jewish LGBTQ characters. The goal was to fill a void in children’s Jewish literature; the selected winners would be published by Kar-Ben, a long- standing publisher of the genre.
Two titles emerged from the contest. The first, The Purim Superhero, was published in 2013, and tells the story of a little boy and girl with two dads. It attracted the attention ofPJ Library, a non-profit organization that distributes Jewish books free of charge to children aged 6 months to 8 years old who are being raised as Jews. The trailblazing book was eventually made available “by request” from the PJ Library, the first book in the organization’s history, which parents needed to ask for specifically. The Flower Girl Wore Celery is attracting similar interest and the book is currently being considered as a PJ Library selection.
“Finally,” noted Klein, kids with LGBTQ parents, and kids in all types of Jewish families, have books that show a more diverse portrait of Jewish family life today.”