Love and Family Day
Family Day: the statutory holiday that makes February almost endurable.
Though as the holiday is still new and as a concept sort of vague — beyond the “stay home from work and school” part — we’re still defining just what this day is about. So how about this: Family Day is a day for settling your children around you on the chesterfield as you read these excellent books celebrating family ties.
The families in some of these books will mirror your own, while others provide a window onto family life that might be different from yours — which is just as important to encounter in a children’s book.
by Bob Graham
Bob Graham’s books are all celebrations of families, families of all different colours, shapes, and sizes, but I highlight this one for its story of Kate, an only child whose place in her family has nothing of the “only” about it.
Graham’s detailed illustrations (right down to the clutter in the corners), Kate’s parents who are individual characters in their own right, and the never-in-doubt love between the members of this threesome make clear the richness of their family life.
I chose this book already as one of my top books of 2013, but come back to it again because of its portrayal of family bonds. It’s never clear whether the Big Penguin is Mother or Father (or neither?), or whether there are any more members of this family than just these two, but it doesn’t matter.
In its simplicity, this book shows that the definition of “family” is just as elastic as love is.
by Russell Hoban
Being a member of a family is often not fun, as Russell Hoban is smart enough to make clear in this true-to-life book about a new sibling.
“Things aren’t very good around here anymore,” reports Frances the Badger after the birth of Baby Gloria, whose needs have subsumed Frances’ own. The story has a happy ending — but not a sappy one — and I think plenty of older siblings will feel good about a book that reflects the complex experience of siblinghood, and validates their feelings.
by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
This book is a terrific introduction to the diversity of family life in terms of members, traditions, socioeconomic status and more.
Facts of life such as homelessness and unhappy families are acknowledged for a nice dose of reality, complemented by funny detailed illustrations, which bring levity and tell stories of their own.
Of the many exceptional things about this book, one is that it explains on its inside cover just what is the difference between first and second cousins, and cousins once removed—how useful!
Isadora’s book provides the narrative for a complicated family tree, showing what brothers, sisters and cousins across generations — and ethnic backgrounds — have in common, and what is different between them, celebrating both.
by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka
This is the first picture book by Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth, and it won a Caldecott Award in 2006 for Chris Raschka’s art, which mimics a child’s drawing style.
It’s a lovely ode to extended family, and to the rituals that emerge from that precious part of life: visits to a grandparent’s house.
by Jennifer Noah and Qin Leng
Two little girls learn from their mother’s stories that indeed they are sisters, though they both came to the family in different ways.
by Jane Yolen and Stephanie Jorisch
Fathers still remain conspicuously absent from so many picture books, and so My Father Knows the Names of Things makes for a nice change.
Written as a memorial to her late husband, Yolen celebrates a father figure not for his ability to conform to prescribed gender roles, but for his wisdom, knowledge and importance as a guiding force in his child’s life.
by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury
I never met a Helen Oxenbury book I didn’t love but this one by Trish Cooke is particularly charming, and a winner of many prizes when it was published in 1998.
Mama and Baby are home alone one day, not doing anything in particular when the doorbell rings, and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins arrive to hug that baby, to love that baby. Cooke’s prose is almost a song and a joy to read, and readers will be particularly excited by the story’s surprise at the end.
by Patricia Polacco
In our library, there are a variety of books about families with two mothers, and many of these live on a shelf called, “Issues,” along with books about dying grandparents and another called Julio’s Gluten-Free Birthday Party. What these books mostly have in common is not their family issues, but that they tend to be really terrible. Which is why Polacco’s book is allowed to live on the real shelf with the rest of the books, I think, because no matter how many moms it has, it’s a work of literature proper.
She celebrates a multi-cultural family with two mothers and three adopted children, showing the richness of their life together, and also hints at the discrimination they encounter along the way. But really, what I love most about this book is that it sets an example of the kind of mother I want to be, the kind of family I want to have. A warning though: my husband is incapable to getting through the book entire without starting to cry.
by Maurice Sendak
I like the realities acknowledged in this, Maurice Sendak’s final picture book. That one’s biological parents can be a bit rubbish, for one (so that when Bumble Ardy’s piggy parents gain weight and get ate, we acknowledge it’s not so much of a loss), and also that a caregiver (Aunt Adeline) can become ferociously angry with you when you misbehave, and still love you all the same.
This isn’t a feel-good story, of course — this is Sendak, after all. The family ties in this book are curious and unsettling, which contributes to the story’s strange appeal.
Not just anyone should be allowed to write a sequel to Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, which we love at our house in its Kids Can Press Vision in Poetry Series edition — but I’m pleased that Julia Donaldson (famed for her Gruffalo and rhyming verse) was permitted to do so.
It’s the story of what happened to this mismatched pair post-honeymoon (where hand in hand by the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon), when the wedding ring goes missing and they must embark to find it. The story is fun, and shows that family can emerge between the most unlikely of candidates — and children need not be part of the equation at all.
Kerry Clare reads and writes in Toronto, and blogs at Pickle Me This. We are all incredibly excited about Kerry’s forthcoming anthology The M Word, on Goose Lane Editions, which is due April 1st and which you can enter to win here!