Operation Marriage – Perfect Picture Book

Operation Marriage

Cynthia Chin-Lee, Author

Lea Lyon, Illustrator

Reach and Teach and PM Press, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and Up

Themes:  Equality, Gay Parents, Difficulty for Children, Loving Families

Synopsis:  After school my best friend Zach said to me, “We can’t be best friends anymore.”  “Why not?”  “It’s your parents, Alex.  They’re…they’re not really married.”  “Of course they’re married,”  I said.  My face got red-hot.  “No, they’re not.  My dad says two women can’t be married.”  He dashed away.  Alex and Nicky are confused when they realize their parents had a commitment ceremony, but had not been able to get married at the time.  They tell Mama Lee and Mama Kathy that they want them to get married and start planning their “Operation Marriage,” campaign.  Because Proposition 8 might pass in California, their parents decide to get married in a church.  Alex is a bridesmaid, and Nicky is the ring bearer.  They shop for dressy clothing, flowers, and baked special foods.  Alex and Nicky get to invite two friends.  At school Alex shows her friends the wedding photos, including Zach.

The children live in San Francisco, and their mothers get married in 2008, when California briefly authorized same-sex marriages, then revoked the right with Proposition 8.  The author shows how difficult it was for children of gay parents.  I can only imagine how confused the children must have been with all the negativity they heard from kids at school, on television, and the signs that appeared in their neighborhood.  This book is such an honest and raw portrayal of one such loving and resilient family.  I highly recommend this book.  There are loving families everywhere that are not typical.  There are families with two Dads, or two Moms.  There are also families with single parents, and families where grandparents and aunts and uncles are raising the children.  They share one thing in common — love.

Why I like this book:  Based on a true story, Cynthia Chin-Lee has captivated the difficulties that children face living in a same-sex marriage family.  Lea Lyon’s illustrations are colorful, bold and evoke the emotion of the story.   What I found interesting was that this book involved a community.   The family depicted in the story was a member of First Presbyterian Church Palo Alto.  Cynthia invited the families and individuals from the church and from her neighborhood to come to church on a Sunday.   They all acted out the scenes from the book that happened in the church.  Lea photographed everything.  They went to Cynthia’s house to act out the rest of the book, with Lea directing and photographing.  Lea did pencil sketches of the scenes and author/publisher/illustrator worked together on the storyboard.  Lea painted (water-color) over the sketches and the team worked together to fine tune the book.  Their teamwork demonstrates how committed the author, illustrator and community were in publishing this book.   Their story was published in four Bay Area newspapers in the  Mercury News family.

Activity Resources:  Click on  What Makes a Family, and Celebrating our Own Families and Understanding Other Families.

For more books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

42 thoughts on “Operation Marriage – Perfect Picture Book

  1. Great choice, Pat. “My Dad says…..”, this is exactly why we need books like these in school libraries, being read to our young students, so that despite the negativity they might hear elsewhere, they have the opportunity to read of loving and different family units. This sounds like a very true portrayal of some of the challenges and joy this family faced.

  2. I knew you’d like this choice Joanna, Many more books about different families are beginning to appear and it is so important because families are not the stereotypical families of years past. I liked that Operation Marriage was based on a real family, and their challenges and the manner they chose to handle difficult situations. Glad you liked the book.

  3. What a fantastic choice! This sounds like a book that does not sugar-coat or step around the real subject and how it impacts kids. I also like the fact that it’s based on a real family. That often really brings it home to readers – that these people are real and facing these problems right now. Thanks for sharing Pat!

  4. Glad you enjoyed the selection Julie. I just loved the book as it has so many teachable moments. There are so many diffenent kinds of families today with foster kids,single parents, adoption, extended families that are combined through marriage and grandparents raising grandchildren. It’s a good discussion book in the classroom.

  5. I’m so glad to have books like this one and AND TANGO MAKES THREE on our list. You are so right. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and what matters is the love, not the composition. There are plenty of traditional families you wouldn’t want to get anywhere near because of problems. I think it’s so important for kids to have knowledge so they can understand. It is precisely that, “My dad says…” attitude we need to address. Thanks so much for sharing this book!

    • Susanna, I’m glad you liked the choice. Couldn’t agree with you more. You have a very wise Dad! Thought it was a good book to add to our list. And, I’m really impressed with the books being published by Reach and Teach. They are all about social justice issues and peace. Topics kids need to learn about at their level. Thanks.

  6. I had not heard of this book.I especially love that it is based on a real honest to goodness family. By doing that, it teaches the challenges and the enjoyment these families face. *waving*

  7. Thanks, Patricia, for the positive review! We appreciate it. The book has been such a wonderful project because it came from a real family (my neighbors) and we got our real friends to pose for the illustrations. I even got a cameo at the end of as the mom of the character, Zach. Reach and Teach is a small press so anything that gets the word out is great. Both Lea Lyon, the illustrator, and I are members of SCBWI so maybe we’ll get to meet at some conference. Our next book signing for this book is at Books, Inc. in Berkeley, CA at 4 pm on Feb. 14 (Valentines day and Freedom to Marry day).

    • Cynthia,
      I’m so happy you liked the review. I’m always nervous about what the author thinks. Thank you for sharing detail about the inspiration behind your book. Craig sent me a note and told me that the entire church got involved in the project and are in some of the photos. I liked your book because it was about a real family. And it is important today for kids to be able to have books written about their families. The traditional family no longer exists, which makes this an important book for school children and classroom discussions. I am very familiar with the Reach and Teach books and have reviewed “Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco,” and have others to read and review. I like the mission of Reach and Teach.

  8. This book sounds beyond-words excellent, Pat. Thank you so much for sharing it. I am so glad that some authors and illustrators have the courage to portray marriages like this — and I fervently hope that one day all loving couples will have the freedom to marry, wherever they live.

    I am grateful, for once, that I was a little late to get to read your PPBF post, because it meant that I got to read Cynthia’s comment. I hope she’ll be at SCBWI LA this year — perhaps I’ll get to meet her. I was very gratified to learn from her comment that February 14th is also celebrated as Freedom to Marry Day. That resonates so much more with me than Valentine’s Day!

    Thank you, Pat. The books you choose are always so very good.

    • Beth, the book is excellent. And, I couldn’t agree with you more. I was surprised to read that Feb. 14 is also celebrated as Freedom to Mary Day too. It is much more meaningful than Valentine’s Day! I know Lea Lyon, the illustrator will be there. I hope Cynthia will be there too. Thank you for your lovely comments. You’re always so thoughtful with your remarks!

  9. I think it is important not to judge people by what others think. It is good to point out that a lot of families are different but still love each other. Thank you for telling us about this book!
    Erik 🙂

  10. I want to thank you too, Patricia, for this lovely review of our book “Operation Marriage.” I was thrilled to be asked to illustrate this important book, and loved every minute of the process – and the new friends I made along the way, including Cynthia Chin-Lee. I will be at the SCBWI LA conference for sure.

    • Lea,
      I am glad you liked the book review. Craig was kind enough to tell me about what went into the writing and illustrations. It felt like the entire community was involved. Your artwork was stunning, and I really wanted my readers to understand how you went about the process. It sounded like a wonderful collaboration. Haven’t decided about the SCBWI conference this year — I was there last summer. But, if I do I will let you and Cynthia know.

  11. Hi Patricia – I ‘know’ you a little bit through your comments in Joanna Marple’s website (which we both frequent) – but this is my first time to really visit your blog through the Comment Challenge, and such a discovery indeed!

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful book. I have a few friends whom I feel would truly enjoy the theme that this carries. And what a lovely name for a blog! Childrens’ Books Heal! I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

    • Myra, I appreciate your visiting my blog through the Comment Challenge. I know you through Joanna’s blog. I’m so happy that you liked “Operation Marriage.” It’s a powerful story with a very loving message. And, I’m glad that you like my blog. It’s a little different from others as I focus on reviewing books that heal. I’m so glad you stopped. – Pat

  12. Pingback: Comment Challenge 2012 – GatheringBooks Dives In – A Running Update «

    • Loni, I’m so pleased you liked this selection. Reach and Teach publishes a lot of books that are socially conscious books and about peaceful conflict resolution, among other titles. You can see the working relationship of those involved in bringing this story to life. – Pat

    • Stacy, I’m so happy you enjoyed the book selection. The community aspect to me was the real story. I found the process interesting. Why do you call yourself a form journo — you’ll always be a journalist and the blogs you write are just a different form. I’ll always be a journalist, it was the foundation of my writing, and my blog brings it out again, even though I want to be an author. It will always be in my blood. Just curious.

  13. This is an amazing book and you certainly know how to do an equally amazing review Pat. I am only just getting around to going through the PPBF reviews for this week.

    I loved the theme and message behind this one and must look and see if it is in our library. NZ was one of the first to make same sex marriage legal, and there have always been families of mixed races, mixed families here, and your line ” They share one thing in common — love.” … is very true!

    How wonderful that Cynthia and Lea have responded to your post. A credit to your review!
    A credit to them in having a whole community get involved………. now that’s love!

    • Diane, thanks for your comments. It was a great story with wonderful involvement by the community. Didn’t realize that NZ was one of the first countries to legalize same sex marriages. You’re ahead of the world in many ways. The book I believe can only be purchased through “Reach and Teach” or through Amazon.com. It was nice to hear from the author and illustrator. Loved your book review too.

  14. WOW! Family is love – period. What an awesome book to teach children to accept everyone despite supposed differences. Even more interesting is the addition of Prop 8 which is a well-known law and stirred the media frenzy. As a person, I just accept people as they are but as a parent, we are the FIRST teachers and our children should be taught to ACCEPT, not JUDGE nor CONDEMN. The book started with, “Dad says…” Dad influenced his child’s perception and taught him “difference of families.” This reminded me of MLK, Jr.’s first experience with racism. His friend of many years met him at their usual spot but that time it was different. He said, “My mom said I can’t play with you anymore because you’re Black…” and then he left leaving little Martin confused. It enraged little MLK. Jr, and thus his crusade began at age 9 because he knew it was not right and a terrible injustice to humanity – to be displaced and socially ostracized because you are “different.”

    • Mimi, I am so happy that you enjoyed “Operation Marriage.” Thanks for your note. Thanks for sharing the experience about MLK and his experience with racism as a young child — uncanny resemblance to the opening of this book. WOW — what a powerful message. I imagine that you are a great parent and teacher. I’m so happy you noticed the similarities. – Pat

  15. I love being a parent, Pat. It is my most prized role which in turn makes me a nurturer for my students. One of my biggest dreams is to do mission work. I am praying fervently for that opportunity.

  16. Hi Pat, I’m going to the library today and finding this book (or online) I actually haven’y read one in a while about this topic, unfortunately. Great place to start up again and introducing my little ones to other family types out there from what they grew up with. Loved the review by the way and the links.

    • Jenifer, I am so pleased you liked “Operation Marriage” and want to share it wth your children. It is an important read. It is so important to teach kids about the different families types they will no doubt will meet at school. Thanks for stopping.

  17. I think I have to send Susannah a bouquet of flowers…if not for her PPBF, I would not be connecting with all of these (you included of course) amazing writers and bloggers who love children and children’s picture books.
    This sounds like an amazing book…thank you for reviewing it here. When I speak to parents, I always stress how we are the first and most important influencers in our young children’s lives…before we give it away to TV, computer games and others. Young children mimic what their parents say and do…this book reminds us to be good and loving role models.

    • Vivian, I feel the same way that you do. I’m meeting some really great writers and bloggers. Thank you for you great comments about parental influence. Crucial. I’m glad you liked my PPBF offering. Thanks for commenting.

    • Kelly, love your new blog look. Glad you approve of my selection. I fell in love with the book immediately. And, I really like Reach and Teach and the socially conscious books they publish. I share the same hope you do — that through books and education we raise a more tolerant generation.

  18. I have to echo Kelly on this one — sometimes I can’t believe that issues like this are still…issues. It boggles the mind. Thanks for the wonderful review and for adding this important book to the collection.

    And thanks also to Cynthia and Lea for creating it and for stopping in with their comments! What a treat! 🙂

    • Renee, I’m glad you liked the review. Unfortunately, it still is an issue and it’s nice that there are wonderful books to help children living in special families. Yes, it was a treat to have both the author and illustrator leave comments.

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