Rainbow families and transgendered children. New inhabitants in Swedish picture books for children
This study is an analysis of Swedish picture books for children with queer themes. It includes books published since 1999, questioning the heterosexual norm regarding sex, gender, and sexuality. The books deviate from the traditional nuclear family ideal in that they depict children or adults who have not adapted to a traditional gender representation or families with one or two of the parents living with a person of the same sex. While some books explicitly deal with the situation in families with two mothers or explain how children are conceived by artificial insemination, others do not comment upon the relations between the adults at all. In some books the queer theme only exists as a subtext, barely noticeable to others than the adult reader. A new motive is also children with undefined sex or gender characteristics, so called uni characters (unikaraktärer). In 2012 the first children's book using the Swedish language gender neuter pronoun "hen" for a child with unspecified sex was published.
Most of the examined books have been published by new publishing companies which have been severely criticized for publishing books in which the message has been seen as more important than artistic quality. This study also analyses some of these animated debates in Swedish media and in various forums on the internet contrasting politics with artistic ambitions in children's books and the question whether books with a queer theme is appropriate reading for children.
An interesting question is to what extent the queer picture books for children really challenge the ruling norms. The examined books in this article show that children are allowed to transcend the traditional gender boundaries or appear in a gender neuter way. Adults, however, are with very few exceptions "normalized" in so far as they live in happy marriages, with concern for their children as their main purpose in life.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2013. Vol. 134, 222-250 p.