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Cynthia Chin-Lee

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Granddaughter of an illegal immigrant from China, Cynthia Chin-Lee is proud to have her paper (documented) name, Chin, and her real name, Lee, as her combined surname. It reminds her of the harsh immigration laws that allowed only a few hundred Chinese to immigrate to the US legally in the late 1800s until the 1940s. Cynthia grew up in Washington, DC, attended Harvard University, and was a graduate fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. She currently lives in Palo Alto, CA. Cynthia has published a book about social networking and five children's books, including the best-selling Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World. She enjoys sharing stories of truth and wisdom to help children face the challenges of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

2012: Operation Marriage has received a Gold Medal in the annual Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, in the Spirit/Compassion category, for dedication to children's books and literacy and for inspired writing, illustrating and publishing.

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Operation Marriage
Author: Cynthia Chin-Lee
Illustrations: Lea Lyon
Publisher: PM Press/Reach and Teach
ISBN: 978-1-60486-422-9
Published: October 2011
Format: Hardcover
Size: 8.5 by 11
Page count: 32 Pages
Subjects: Children's Picture Book, Family

Eight-year old Alex has a fight with her best friend, Zach, who says he can no longer be her friend. Why? Because "her parents aren't married." Set in the San Francisco Bay Area months before the passage of Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in California, this picture book looks at the heartwarming and humorous actions of Alex and her younger brother, Nicky, to convince their parents to get married.

Though previously content with their parent's commitment ceremony, the children stubbornly insist that their moms legally marry before Prop. 8 takes effect. Their love as a family is contagious as their neighbors begin to accept them for what they are: a normal, affectionate family.

Based on a true story, Cynthia Chin-Lee's Operation Marriage is a touching story about a real family and their struggle for equality with beautiful and captivating illustrations by Lea Lyon (Say Something).


"Operation Marriage is an honest, insightful, and touching story illustrating the many ways that lack of marriage equality impacts kids' lives. Its messages—perseverance, trusting oneself, facing adversity and standing up to it—are universal, but its approach to the particular social challenge of marriage inequality fills a void in the children's book world. There is power in seeing a problem from a child's perspective, and much that we grown-ups can learn from looking at the world through a child's eyes. This book belongs in every school library and on every public library shelf."  — Sarah Hoffman, author of Pink Boys

"Cynthia Chin-Lee very sensitively deals with the subject of same sex marriage by telling the true story of one couple and their children. Children are very ready to start talking about the civil rights issues of our time and this book is a great jumping off point to get those conversations started."  — Jacinta Bunnell, author of Girls Are Not Chicks Coloring Book

"Even 3rd-graders know that commitment ceremonies are not weddings and domestic partnerships are not marriage. Operation Marriage shows how important marriage is to children and that they understand that anything less, is less than equal."  — Dr. Davina Kotulski, psychologist, and author of Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage (2004) and Love Warriors: The Rise of the Marriage Equality Movement and Why it Will Prevail (2010)

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What Others are Saying


Operation Marriage: A Review
by Bill Silverfarb
The San Mateo Daily Journal
June 27th, 2013

Married couple Derrick Kikuchi and Craig Wiesner, from San Mateo, published a children’s picture book titled “Operation Marriage” that tells the true story of a family with two kids who convince their mothers to get married during that brief window when it was legal.

It was based on a true story and shows the impact Proposition 8 had on the family and how the parents persevered, Wiesner said yesterday.

Kikuchi and Wiesner were married in their church more than 20 years ago and then married again legally almost 15 years later when same-sex marriage was briefly allowed in the state for less than five months before the passage of Proposition 8, Nov. 5, 2008. Proposition 8 was a voter-approved ballot measure that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Although many homosexuals in the state took advantage of that brief window, many did not, Wiesner told the Daily Journal yesterday.

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Operation Marriage: A Review
by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Shaping Youth
June 29th, 2013

Beautifully illustrated by Lea Lyon, characters Alex and Nicky urge their mothers to get married “while they can.” Operation Marriage received a Gold Medal in the annual Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, in the Spirit/Compassion category, for dedication to children’s books and literacy and for inspired writing, illustrating and publishing.

I enjoyed meeting the ‘real life’ characters at the Kepler’s book signing launch last year, and found the timeless over-arching theme of fairness and family diversity appeals to every age and stage, as the publisher aptly states:

“…Where there is love there is family; where there is family, there should be respect, dignity and support.”

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Operation Marriage: A Review
by Lorraine
MidWest Book Review

"Operation Marriage" is a touching, timely story about two best friends, a boy and girl named Zach and Alex, who believe they can't continue their friendship because "her parents aren't married." The story is told from the viewpoints of Alex and Nikki, the two children of Mama Kathy and Mama Lee, a lesbian couple who have had a commitment ceremony but have not been legally allowed to become married. When California's Proposition 8 is passed, this changes and Alex and Nikki's parents obtain the legal right to marry in the state of California. The reactions of both children and adults to this story displays the human importance of this legislation and this current issue. "Operation Marriage" is a real story with real people living real lives and teaching real lessons in human compassion and enlightenment.

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Marriage Equality for Kids: A Review of Operation Marriage
Kirkus Reviews
January 2012

"Wearing its heart on its sleeve, this message-driven text...will situate
itself as part of the early-21st-century movement toward same-sex marriage

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Marriage Equality for Kids: A Review of Operation Marriage
By Lyn Miller Lachmann
The Pirate Tree
December 5th, 2011

Readers typically do not approach small-press-published “issue books” with high hopes for quality, but this picture book exposes the blind prejudice of that attitude. Operation Marriage is a well-constructed, age-appropriate story with an appealing cast of characters. Spunky Alex doesn’t let her best friend’s abandonment get her down; instead, she enlists her brother in a campaign that is filled with humor—blasting wedding music throughout the house, making a fake wedding program—things that will ring true to all children who’ve found creative ways to beg their parents to do something for them. The tactics escalate in emotional intensity, and the election serves as an effective “ticking clock.”

Inspired by a Palo Alto family, fictional kids convinced their gay parents to get married
by Jessica Lipsky and Carol Blitzer
Palo Alto Online

November 11th, 2011

Chin-Lee, who is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the author of Amelia to Zora, A if for Asia and Almond Cookies and Dragon Well Tea, among others, sees Operation Marriage as a civil-rights story.

"The book is for all kids, all families, not just kids with gay parents. I have a particular passion for social justice and celebrating diversity. ... We grow from our shared humanity," she said.

Palo Alto family's experience depicted in children's book on gay marriage
By Aaron Kinney
San Mateo County Times
November 2nd, 2011

Chin-Lee, a publications manager for Oracle, has written several well-received children's books exploring cultural diversity in her spare time. With Operation Marriage, she has taken on the subject of gay rights, mixing in broader themes of tolerance and bullying.

"I see this not only as a gay marriage issue, but opening the conversation of how all families are different," Chin-Lee said Tuesday.

Operation Marriage on San Jose Mercury News
by Aaron Kinney
San Jose Mercury News

The same-sex couple, who were campaigning against Proposition 8, had to explain to their two young daughters why some of their friends' parents didn't want them to be allowed to marry. Then, with their daughters' encouragement, the couple decided to tie the knot before the ban on same-sex marriage took effect.

Their story is now the basis for Operation Marriage, a new children's book that could make its way into classrooms and school libraries now that California passed a law ensuring that children learn about the contributions of gays and lesbians. Author Cynthia Chin-Lee debuted the book Wednesday at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park before an audience of local families, educators and faith leaders.

Operation Marriage on Book Dragon
By Terry Hong
Book Dragon
September 29th, 2011

In case you needed another reminder, Banned Books Week continues for a couple more days … hope we’ve got lots of rebel readers out there! Since #1 on the “Top ten most frequently challenged books of 2010” is again And Tango Makes Three, I thought this newest title from author Cynthia Chin-Lee would make a lovely companion title to adorable Tango …

Alex goes to school one day to have her friend Zach tell her they “‘can’t be best friends anymore.’” The reason he gives – directly from his father – is because of Alex’s parents. According to Zach’s father, Alex’s parents aren’t married: “‘My dad says two women can’t be married.’”

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