Twent Has Two Mommies…

In 2010 I published a middle grade novel called Penny Dreadful. It was a fun book. Some people liked it. It went on to become an EB White Readaloud HONOR book. Huzzah!

But I get a lot of emails about it.  Because in the book there is a very minor character, a boy named Twent, who happens to have two mommies.

Last night I received one such email, and because I was having a very hard week, I ignored the email.  Typically I respond to these emails. I try to explain.  Because maybe (just maybe) the author of the letter is not only writing me a mean letter. MAYBE they are open to a response.  I don’t want to miss that chance, if it’s real. But last night I didn’t.

S0 I thought I could respond here, today. ANd then, in the future, when I get these emails, I can direct readers here…


Anastasia writes of Twent (among other things):

“How do you explain that? OUR FAMILY IS VERY AGAINST THAT.”

And I will answer her:

Ahhh, Anastasia, good question!  How do I explain it?  It’s really very simple.

The world is very full of people.  No two people are alike. They live many different kinds of lives. Some of them are nuns. Some of them are corporate lawyers. Some of them are the owners of magical chocolate factories.  But we cannot all be nuns, or magical chocolatiers.  For this reason, we have many different kinds of books. To reflect the many kinds of lives people live. In some cases, we expect people to SEE THEMSELVES in the pages of books. In other cases, we expect books to expand the way people see the world.  Maybe YOU have never met a magical chocolatier, but thanks to Roald Dahl, you can!

When someone writes a book, they cannot ask, “Who will I offend with this particular book?”  Because every book will offend someone.  A writer can only tell a story, and if they are fortunate enough to find a publisher, hope some people want to read it.

It makes me sad to hear you were offended by my book. I didn’t mean to do that. I wasn’t writing it for YOU. But I’m not sorry for Twent’s moms either.   I won’t apologize for them.

I wrote Penny Dreadful to reflect the world I live in. A world populated by many kinds of people, not just nuns and corporate lawyers and magical chocolatiers.  My neighborhood has many gay families in it, in addition to people who aren’t white, and Jews like me.  There are also some folks who have hearing loss, or are blind. My neighborhood has musicians in it, and artists, and world travelers, and gardeners, and women with very long hair, and people who like to make their own jam.  All of these people climbed into my book when I wrote it, because I wanted the book to reflect the world I inhabit.

Honestly the book has received criticism for being “unbelievably diverse.” People find this difficult to accept, especially since the book is set in the south.  I would argue that the people who make these complaints are not comparing my book to the actual world of humans, but to the very whitewashed landscape of traditional nuclear families in which most children’s books have been set. I would further argue that the people who argue that THE SOUTH is not diverse in this way should try visiting the actual south.  That is just another stereotype.

In any case, this is how I “EXPLAIN” Twent’s two moms.  Twent has two moms because many kids I know have two moms.  Twent is a minor character, a friend Penny meets along the way.  The same way that I, a girl with a mom and a dad, have friends with two moms or two dads. Should I not have written the world I love and inhabit?

I’m guessing what upset you most about the book was that you got no WARNING. There is no backmatter to inform readers that they might encounter diversity in this book.  You may feel that your daughter should have had a chance to choose for herself that she was about to encounter a few lines of text in which there were gay people.  I don’t know how this would work.  Should I have also included a warning label: WARNING: THIS BOOK HAS SOME JEWS IN IT?

Books are the best way I know for kids to encounter the world beyond their own experience. Books build empathy and understanding.  They get kids ready for what they’re going to stumble into when they take their first job, or open a copy of the New York Times (yeah, I know that’s unlikely, but I still get the paper myself, so play along).

I don’t expect your kid to turn gay. I don’t actually want your kid to turn gay, or Jewish, or into a magical chocolatier.  I’d just like to think that when she encounters magical chocolatiers in books, you won’t scare her away from them. I’d like to think that you, as her mother, will engage with her question. That you’ll explain that you understand her surprise, since she’s never met a chocolatier before. You can explain that YOUR family doesn’t make chocolate, personally. But yes, the world has chocolate in it, made by magical chocolatiers, and isn’t it nice that the world is such an amazing place, full of surprises and mysteries…



16 Responses to “Twent Has Two Mommies…”

  1. Emma D Dryden, drydenbks LLC Says:

    Hear! Hear! A great open-eyed response to a closed-minded question.

  2. Jodi C Carmichael Says:


    What a wonderful response. This is one of the big reasons we write for children. To shine light on all sorts of different people, living different lives, to encourage empathy and understanding of others.

    Now, I must search out your book. It sounds fantastic.


  3. Mallory Loehr Says:

    What a beautiful and perfect response. I love Penny Dreadful so much!

  4. mary ann rodman Says:

    Penny Dreadful you say? Sounds wonderful (and how did I miss this four years ago?) Must find! And a great post, Laurel.

  5. Lara O'Brien Says:

    I will be sure my children read this book! We do live in a white neighborhood with NOT much diversity and they DO need books to live a little outside this very small Island we live on (MV) and get a glimpse of the real world and the beauty of all her people. Good for you!

  6. Anne Ursu Says:


  7. Sheila Ruth Says:

    Beautiful and perfect response!

  8. Darsa Says:

    I love this so much.

  9. Am Says:

    Such a thoughtful and kind response. It spells out perfectly why I was glad my kids read the latest Rick Riordan book with a homosexual character in it. I believe books truly are great tools for building empathy in our children,

  10. Betty Collerson Says:

    I have not read Penny Dreadful but I commend you for portraying modern society with all the challenging, inspiring and wonderful people that inhabit our communities. Our children have everything to gain from embracing these apparent differences.

  11. Kath Allen Says:

    I am going to buy this book simply on the strength of this response. The world would be a much happier place with more of this sort of inclusive, accepting attitude in it.

  12. Katy K. Says:

    Thank you so much! What a wonderful response!

  13. Elizabeth D. Says:

    What a lovely response and so deftly handled! :) e

  14. Bev Pershouse Says:

    We definitely live in a changing/challenging world and whereas a child having a loving mother and father is the most ideal/balanced environment for them to grow up in (children have rights too some people seem to forget) we must love and accept ALL children no matter what their parent/s lifestyle choice may be. So for you to portray a child with 2 mothers for example (or a particular race, religion etc), matters little when it comes down to it but we take an interest in what that actual child (or any other child) has to say. After all any child is just a product of choices made before it was even conceived. Lets all find ways to make their lives more enjoyable. Me? I write songs and stories for them…..

  15. Megan Rathsack Says:

    I am not a nun, or a corporate lawyer, or a magical chocolatier, or a gay mom… but I am _a_ mom, and that means I get to explain a whole lot of things to my daughter. Some are difficult, some are easy, some I just can’t explain at all. But I could only hope that I could explain things as wonderfully as you did here. You have my total admiration.

  16. Brianne Farley Says:

    This is just really beautifully written and heartfelt and lovely. Thank you!

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