Taking the ‘alternative family’ mainstream

A Dunrobin mother has created a new series of books to reflect the experiences of children raised in diverse family forms, writes Sonia Mendes.


As a new mother, Stephanie Kain has fielded more than her share of very personal questions about her daughter.

“People will ask me, ‘So who’s the real mother? Is she yours?’” says Kain, who is raising one-year-old Emlyn with her wife, Nancy. “It’s so bizarre and for me, it’s not appropriate.

“Would you ask your neighbour how they conceived their child or would you maybe think that was their business?”

These awkward questions inspired Kain, a Dunrobin-based author, to write a brand-new children’s book called Emlyn and the Gremlin.

Launched in July, Kain hopes her book will increase awareness and understanding of alternative families, including those with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered parents.

Emlyn and the Gremlin is available for $10.95 from Amazon, or through Kain’s website at www.skneff.com.

The book was also written for kids who live in LGBT households, who deserve to see themselves represented in books. When it comes to children’s literature, Kain says there’s a dire lack of books that feature kids growing up within an alternative family structure.

“There’s very, very few that focus on the child’s adventure — that have a regular story but just happen to have two moms or two dads — they just don’t exist yet,” she explains. “It’s a problem for me because all of Emlyn’s literature is based on the mainstream — there’s nothing that really includes her family life.”

Emlyn and the Gremlin is the first in a series of beautifully illustrated picture books targeted at three- to eight-year-old kids. The story features a little girl, Emlyn, and her Great Dane, Moose, who live with two moms in a home visited by a friendly Gremlin. 

A second book in the series is already in progress, and Kain plans to launch a third before Christmas.

“The idea of diversity and awareness is very good, but there’s still a level of disconnect; there’s a difference,” says Kain, who writes her children’s books under the pen name Steff F. Kneff. “You know, we have ‘normal families’ and then we have ‘alternative families,’ and I don’t necessarily think that division is good.”

Already thinking ahead to Emlyn going off to school in a few years, Kain says she hopes the book will help the “alternative family” become a normal part of the public lexicon.

“I worry about her going to school and having to explain her family to her classmates with there being no iconic examples,” says Kain. “That’s the point of the book, just to normalize it. I’d like the book to be a springboard for parents to be able to have natural conversations with their kids.”

Kain hopes that one day — perhaps when Emlyn is ready for college — there will be a normalization of LGBT families within mainstream culture. She points to how interracial marriages have gradually become normalized within our culture.

“That’s what I would like to get to,” says Kain. “To be at the point where people don’t seem to need a special term for a gay marriage, it’s just a marriage.”

For the time being, however, it seems she’ll need to keep her sense of humour intact as she endures those awkward questions just a little bit longer.

“One acquaintance actually asked me, ‘What if Emlyn gets older and decides that she doesn’t want two mothers?’” laughs Kain. “I told her, ‘Well, then she’ll trade one of us in for a pet giraffe.’”

Photo: Billie MacDonald