Jewish LGBTQ Hero Poster Series Curriculum — Lesléa Newman

This lesson is about reflecting on the messages sent to us through media and considering the power of representation.

October 15, 2020

By Essie Shachar-Hill, Keshet

Leslea Newman LGBTQ Jewish Hero PosterIntroduction

Time: 45 mins

Age: 11+



  • Learn about contemporary LGBTQ Jewish hero Lesléa Newman
  • Reflect on the messages sent to us through media as small children
  • Consider the power of representation of LGBTQ people


  • This lesson includes discussions of children’s books, including books students read as children. Childhood experiences vary, and not everyone has access to the same kinds of materials. Considering this, you may want to broaden the prompts to include other kinds of media, including movies or TV. 
  • This lesson features children’s books, but the goal is for tweens/teens/adults to reflect on the messages we received in the past, as well as thinking about messages we want to teach others. The use of children’s literature is not meant to be infantilizing. You my want to share up front that this activity was actually inspired by a class for adults!

Frame (3 mins)

Today we will be learning about a contemporary Jewish hero. It’s important to learn about Jewish heroes because there are so many extraordinary Jews in our history and present who have made important contributions to the Jewish people and the world at large. It’s also important to learn about lots of different Jewish heroes because it uplifts the fact that the Jewish community is diverse, and there is no one way to be Jewish. Today we are going to learn about Lesléa Newman.

Learn (3 mins)

Lesléa (pronounced “Lez-LEE-uh”) Newman (she/her/hers) is the author of 70 books for readers of all ages. Ms. Newman wrote Heather Has Two Mommies, the first children’s book to portray lesbian families in a positive way, and has followed up this pioneering work with several more children’s books on lesbian and gay families: Felicia’s Favorite Story, Too Far Away to Touch, Saturday Is Pattyday, Mommy, Mama, and Me, and Daddy, Papa, and Me.

She is also the author of many books for adults that deal with lesbian identity, Jewish identity and the intersection and collision between the two. Other topics Ms. Newman explores include AIDS, eating disorders, butch/femme relationships, and sexual abuse. Her award-winning short story, A Letter To Harvey Milk, has been made into a film and adapted for the stage.

Reflect (10 mins)

There’s a lot we can learn from children’s books, even as teens and adults! They often contain messages about values, expectations, and life lessons. We’re going to take a look at a smattering of children’s books and see what we remember from them. 

If virtual: This activity uses Padlet, which is an interactive, visual teaching tool. Re-make your own version of this Padlet board. (You can do this by clicking “re-make” at the top right corner. Make sure to click “copy posts” so the main content is also copied. Please be sure to re-make the Padlet for your lesson rather than directly editing the template!! This will ensure the template stays unedited so others can re-create padlets from it.)

Share the link to your padlet with your class.

The directions for this activity are at the top of the Padlet, and you can read them aloud:

Find a book that you are particularly drawn to. If you’re familiar with the book, write a word or short phrase that captures the central idea of the book. If you have a favorite children’s book that does not appear here, find an image of the cover on Google Images, click Copy, put your mouse on an orange space on this padlet board and click, then paste (Ctrl+V or Command+V). It’ll show up at the top of the Padlet. Happy reading!

Ask a few students to share verbally once people have had a chance to peruse and annotate. 

If in person: Project or display the padlet so all students can see it. Have students take turns choosing a book and briefly sharing the main message of the book.

Watch (7 mins)

Now we’re going to look at a children’s book by Lesléa Newman. Watch  “Sparkle Boy read by author.”

Discuss (10 mins)

Either as a whole group, or in smaller groups, discuss the following:

  • It’s pretty remarkable that we could all remember some of the lessons we learned from children’s books as children many years ago. What makes children’s books so memorable?
  • When you were a child, did you read any stories like Sparkle Boy? Did you read any books about identity like gender, sexual orientation, religion, or race? What messages were conveyed therein?
  • In the books you read as a child, did many characters look like you and have similar experiences, or were characters quite different from you? How did it affect you to see people who were like you and people who were different? (For further talking points on this question, see the “Mirrors and Windows” conversation in the appendix below.)
  • What’s the difference between books that are about identity (like Sparkle Boy) and books that aren’t about identity but have representation of different identities (like the Purim superhero)? How do those this distinction impact the audience?
  • Thinking back to the messages you received as a child through books, are some of the lessons relevant to you today? Which ones?

Facilitator’s note: this is a good time to talk about representation and the power of seeing oneself reflected in media. See appendix for more resources.

Create (10 mins)

Think about a message or lesson you wish you had learned as a child. Create an outline for a children’s book that teaches that lesson. Include at least the characters and themes. If you have time, start mapping the plot!

Close (2 mins)

As we’ve seen, the messages we receive as children can have a great impact on our lives. What were the messages/themes you wanted to include in your children’s book? 

If virtual: have participants annotate a Zoom whiteboard

In person: Have a snowball fight! Have each student write their message on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it to the center of the room. Then have students pick one from the pile and read aloud.


if you have more time, multiple lessons, or want to assign homework

  • Spend more time storyboarding and creating children’s books
  • Lesléa has written books for all ages. Peruse her website to find a book to read and discuss with your class.
  • Watch this interview with Leslea in which she discusses gender roles. Lead a discuss on what it means to be a boy or a girl, who is allowed to do what, etc. 
  • Check out a copy of Lesléa’s book “Write from the Heart: Inspiration and Exercises for Women Who Want to Write” and lead a writing exercise from it
  • Read Lesléa’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Life Before the Virus.” Have students write their own poems about how they look at life before COVID-19.