My friend (and fellow Bilerico Project contributor) Jeff Lutes has a new book called Okin the Panda Bear Finds His Family. It's a magical tale about feeling different and finding your peeps, a fable for all ages about deaf culture, adoption, and non-traditional families. It's available just in time for the holidays, and it makes a great gift for libraries and little ones.
Okin is loosely based on the story of Jeff's family. Jeff and his partner, Gary Stein, are the proud fathers of three children. Gary and two of the kids are deaf, and American Sign Language is the primary language in their home. "Okin" is an anagram for the name of their oldest child, who was adopted from China.
Okin the Panda Bear Finds His Family can be purchased with a remarkable DVD that tells the story in ASL and English. Like the book, the DVD features beautiful, hand-painted illustrations by Hiroko Sakai.
The Austin launch party for Okin was packed with folks from overlapping deaf and LGBT communities. After the reading, I asked my eight-year-old son what he thought. "I never knew so many people spoke sign language!" he answered.
Waylon was particularly taken with the early pages of the story, which show Okin playing with panda friends like Pang, Kew, and Bao Yu. "It was sad that he had to leave his friends," Waylon said.
I appreciate the fact that Jeff's story preserves the cultural specificity of Okin's Chinese roots and the pathos of leaving one community for another. In that respect, it's an important contribution to the children's literature of international LGBT adoption. Okin compares favorably to a book like King and King and Family, which imagines international adoption as a story of two white men bringing back a human child from a jungle inhabited only by animals. (In Okin, Baldy the Tiger and Quickpaws the Panther bring Okin to a community called Freedom Oaks, which is not a jingoistic reference to the U.S., but rather a nod to Austin's Freedom Oaks Metropolitan Community Church.)
I bought one copy of Okin the Panda Bear for our family, and I bought another for friends whose son is autistic. They have their own story of finding ways to communicate what's in their hearts, and I thought they would identify with Okin's journey.
I also bought a copy to give to my son's school library here in the heart of Texas. I'll keep you posted on how that goes. If you give a copy to your local library, drop me a comment and tell me what happens. (You know us queers: always trying to promote our agenda of acceptance for panda-panther-tiger-fox-raccoon families!)
Looking for more books for LGBT families? Check out the rainbow book list, a project of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. The Rainbow Project presents an annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content, which are recommended for people from birth through eighteen years of age.