When the rain spoils Zak’s plan for a safari adventure, he invites the reader on a very special tour of his family instead. Zak shows us how his parents met, fell in love, and wanted more than anything to have a baby—so they decided to make one.
In the first half of the book, Zak teaches us about his biological origins. Using simple but accurate language, we learn about sperm and egg cells, known-donors, donors from sperm banks, and instructions called genes that make up who we are. Zak's enthusiasm, combined with his scientific curiosity and gratitude for his inherited "awesome genes" make him the perfect tour guide for this contemporary conception story.
The second half of the book celebrates family. Gorgeous illustrations depict Zak and his two moms living the adventure of everyday life: eating meals together, playing at the beach, going for nature hikes and hanging out with friends and family.
It's my hope that this book will provide a starting place for many future conversations with your kids about their conception story and donor. Zak's Safari is written in a style that is genuine, informative, casual, and easy to understand. It will be most meaningful to kids ages 4-8.
Author. MA Instructional Design
Christy works as a course developer for a mental health organization. Her first book, Mama Midwife: A Birth Adventure, was self-published in 2013.
Christy lives with her two kids (both donor-conceived) in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Illustrator. MFA Illustration
Ciaee (pronounced ji-AH-yee) is an award-winning illustrator who holds an MFA in Illustration from the Academy of Arts University. She currently resides in San Francisco with her dear husband, Tom. She delights in making things with her hands, and finds great joy in telling stories through her pictures. You may visit her online at https://dribbble.com/ciaee.
Subject Matter Expert. MPH/ MPPM
Alice Ruby wrote the foreword for Zak's Safari. Alice has been the Executive Director of The Sperm Bank of California (TSBC) since 2002 where she oversees all programs. TSBC is the only non-profit sperm bank in the US and the first sperm donation program worldwide to provide an option for donor-conceived adults to learn the identity of their sperm donor. Ms. Ruby has personally released donor identities to 110+ donor-conceived adults, matched more than 500 families with others who share their sperm donor, and provides resources and support to donors, recipients, and donor-conceived adults. She is a research collaborator with Dr. Scheib, TSBC’s Research Director, and is also the mother of a donor-conceived child.
When our children were between the ages of three and four, my wife and I knew it was time to start talking to them about their donor. In our social circle, our kids are surrounded by diverse family structures, but this diversity is rarely represented in books, cartoons, and the media in general. Our kids were noticing that most families have a mom and a dad. They were perfectly happy having two moms, but still, they were noticing. I could almost see the questions brewing in their curious heads.
I asked my friend, Alice, for some advice on what seemed like a pretty tricky topic to navigate. Her advice was perfect: talk early and often; keep it simple and honest. She recommended making a personalized book about our conception story. She told us of a book she and her partner had made for her own son, using photographs to tell the story of their family beginnings. It was his favorite bedtime story for a long time! I loved this idea, but I also really wanted the convenience of buying a helpful book online.
I assumed that because there were so many two-mom families out there that there must proportionately exist a plethora of wonderful donor-conception books for families just like mine. I happily began my search, but was soon disappointed. I did find a few books that technically fit the bill, but they seemed to lack some qualities that I look for in any children's book. And I just didn't want to compromise those qualities. After all, this book was extremely important to me.
I wanted a book that was well written: informative yet casual, easy to understand yet interesting. Something that tugs a little on the heartstrings or provokes a chuckle. Or both. And, oh, how I longed for a book that was illustrated by a professional and talented artist! I wanted to see a contemporary, loving, two-mom family that I could relate to. On top of all that, I also wanted a book that instilled a sense of gratitude for the donor. And so, as is true for the birth of many projects, I was inspired to make the book that I couldn't find.
In addition to my personal desire for this book was a larger motivation: As LGBT parents, we need more high-quality children's books that represent us: our love for our family, our pride in our kids, and our collective commitment to truth and equality.
It's my hope that this book will provide a starting place for many future conversations with your kids about their conception story and donor.
Zak’s Safari takes an honest, open, and age-appropriate approach to talking about donor conception and family diversity. Using a book like this one is an excellent way to begin (or continue) conversations with children about their origins, or to educate child friends or relatives about your family. To help with your discussions I offer these 4 tips for talking to kids about donor conception.
1) Keep it simple.
Especially for young children, simple, honest and personal is best. Make the story one about love and connection. For example, you might say, “Mama and I wanted a child. It takes an egg from a woman and a sperm from a man to make a baby. Your Mama provided the egg and a man called a donor provided the sperm. You grew in Mama’s body and when you were born, I held you and changed your diapers. Your Mama and I are your parents, we love you, and we take care of you.” Remember, whatever complex emotions you may have about the conception journey, for your child the story of how they came to be is happy, magical, and full of love.
2) Tell early.
Telling early has many advantages. First, it gives the parent(s) the opportunity to get comfortable with the topic and try out different ways of telling the family story. Some parents practice by telling the story to their infant, to each other, to a partner, or to a friend. Second, sharing early normalizes the topic, so children who learn early know they can go to their parents when they have questions. Lastly, early disclosure ensures that children learn this important information from their parents—and not from others who may have less positive or less informed views on donor conception.
3) Tell often.
Thinking of disclosure as a process, rather than a one-time event, frees parents from having to explain every aspect at once. Most children will have different questions and interests at different ages. As your child evolves their understanding, you can evolve your explanations by answering their questions as they come up. Finding ways to keep the dialogue going (such as creating a family book or having books like Zak’s Safari on the bookshelf) will remind your child that this is an acceptable topic to talk about.
4) Differentiate between people who make you and people who take care of you.
Children often want to know that they, like everyone else on the planet, came from two people and are often understandably curious about the donor. The fact that the donor is a person (not just some disembodied cells or genes) is important. However, it is also important to clarify that the donor is not a parent. For example, you could say, “There are people who help make you (like Mama and the donor) and there are people who take care of you (like Mom and Mama). Sometimes these people are the same (Mama) and sometimes they are different (Mom and the donor). The people who take care of you (Mama and Mom) are your parents.”
I have spoken to parents who feel that this places too much emphasis on the donor. They want to focus only on the people who are in the child’s life, not on someone the child doesn’t know. We have found in our research that the donor is often important to donor-conceived children. This doesn’t diminish their love for their parent(s). Curiosity about the donor is common and normal and is likely to vary from age to age and from child to child.
Many parents are nervous about talking with children about conception. Talking with our kids about their origins is not that different from teaching them about other complex aspects of their lives. As donor-conceived families, this is part of the journey of parenthood for us, and part of growing up for our kids.
You can do it!
Alice Ruby, MPH, Executive Director, The Sperm Bank of California, and Mama through donor conception