Photos by Julie Schanke Lyford
Katy, an imaginative elementary-aged girl with a speech impediment, is thrilled when her teacher announces Grandparents Day. Her Grampas are the best and she cannot wait to bring them to school – until she finds out that she is supposed to introduce them to the whole class. Nervous that her classmates will make fun of her speech impediment and then hurt when her teacher assumes that Katy is mispronouncing “Grandma” when she says gushes about bringing her “Grampa and Grampa” to school, Katy is suddenly not so sure that she wants to participate in Grandparents Day after all.
Author Julie Schanke Lyford came up with the idea for Katy Has Two Grampas after realizing that there were no children’s books featuring gay grandparents. “Our family owned every book about gay dads,” she laughs, “but it’s not the same.”
Lyford’s father and his husband are amazing grandparents, and she wanted her kids to have a book that reflected their reality. “Children need to see themselves in stories,” Lyford says, “That is why we created this book.”
With the help of her father and co-author, Robert Schanke, Lyford has finally made the dream of a children’s book featuring gay grandparents a reality. Because the book is based on her family, it was important that everyone in the family was comfortable with the project. “We are lucky to have a wonderfully supportive family,” Lyford smiles.
Part of Lyford’s goal in writing Katy Has Two Grampas is to challenge readers to think twice before guessing at anyone’s family composition. “I hope this helps to make people stop and think,” she muses, “Be careful what you assume when talking to children about their family unit…I have heard from numerous families who have recently had the same sort of experience at school.” Preconceived notions can and do hurt kids unnecessarily, whether those notions regard the gender, orientation, race, or adoption status of family members. It is always better to give people the space to describe their situation.
Lyford has been an LGBTQ activist for years, lobbying for same sex marriage and giving speeches across Minnesota. In fact, in 2014, Lavender honored her with an Organizational Achievement Award. Katy Has Two Grampas marks a new chapter for Lyford, in which she merges her activism with children’s literature. Her father has been integral to the process, not only being one of the two “grampas” featured in the story, but also by providing a wealth of knowledge from his previous experience writing award-winning biographies.
Katy Has Two Grampas has been five years in the making – one of those rare projects that actually benefited from the lockdown. “The entire book was written during COVID,” Lyford says, “Once we were stuck at home it gave us the time to work on the book.” This was especially true for illustrator Mariia Luzina, who was living in Italy at the beginning of the pandemic. With the incredibly restrictive guidelines in place, she “was only able to leave her apartment to walk her dog,” Lyford says.
“Both she and our family are huge fans of Hayao Miyazaki…her style has that feel.” Luzina’s illustrations are delightful, simultaneously cartoonish and photorealistic. “Mariia Luzina was a magician!” Lyford exclaims, “We really love how she was able to tell the story in her images.” Luzina even hid a recurring character every page, making for a fun game of “I spy” while you read.
Like most picture books, Katy Has Two Grampas is short, but it is brimming with valuable life lessons. The little tome celebrates familial love, encourages kids to confront their fears, and serves as a reminder that sometimes all you need is a big sister who has your back.
Whether you get a copy for yourself, your children, or your grandchildren, this is a sweet book that will be treasured for years to come.
Lavender readers can use promo code LAVFORKATY to get free shipping when purchasing the book through the website listed below. Katy Has Two Grampas is also available at Mischief on Grand.
For more information check out www.katyhastwogrampas.com