‘Sometimes we communicate what we value through our words, actions, attitudes and the resources we make available in our classrooms. However, we can also reveal what we value by the things that we omit. If the texts that we share with children always show families as having two parents of different gender, how does this impact on those living with another model of family life?’ Here Janice Morris and Richard Woolley share their ten favourite picture books to help explore children’s diverse experiences of family.
The Family Book
Todd Parr, Little, Brown, 32pp, 978 0 3160 7040 9, £4.99 pbk
The Family Book introduces the concept that there are many different ways to be a family and that all families are special. Short, simple sentences and bold illustrations get across this message in a very clear, appealing and accessible way. Whilst looking at the different compositions, habits and preferences of families, it also focuses on what families do – such as celebrating special days together and helping each other to be strong. Don’t be deceived by the bright colours and child-like illustrations: this book covers a huge range of ideas with humour and simplicity.
Grace and Family
Mary Hoffman, ill. Caroline Binch, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, 978 1 8450 7806 5, £6.99 pbk
Grace and Family takes a look at different family structures. To Grace, her family has always meant her mum, grandma and cat; she struggles to reconcile her family with the stereotypes she encounters in stories. When Grace’s dad invites her to The Gambia to visit his new family she meets the nuclear family she ‘ought’ to have. The story touches on Grace’s feelings of being stretched between two families, wondering how to fit in and sensing that there just isn’t enough of her to go round. Throughout the story Nana explains to Grace that: ‘Families are what you make them.’ Grace’s story has a happy ending but she still wonders why there aren’t any stories about families that don’t live together. Caroline Binch’s illustrations of The Gambia are carefully observed and beautifully executed.
If I Had a Hundred Mummies
Vanda Carter, Onlywomen Press, 32pp, 978 0 9065 0091 0, £5.99 pbk
This book considers the trials and tribulations that would be faced if a child had just that: a hundred mummies. There would be endless bedtime stories, masses of kisses and people to care, the need for a huge house and a whole range of clutter and junk! The punch line is that one hundred is not an exciting prospect, but having two is just fine. This is a super book to read aloud; the rhyme makes it appealing to the ear and the content is both amusing and engaging with lots to discuss in the colourful, detailed illustrations.
Eddie’s Kitchen: and how to make good things to eat
Sarah Garland, Frances Lincoln, 40pp, 978 1 8450 7588 0, £11.99 hbk
Eddie is helping his mum prepare a last minute birthday party for Grandpa. It’s 2pm and the whole family are coming at 6pm to celebrate. Indeed, Mum is so distracted for the next four hours that Eddie does more than just help. Without Eddie none of the birthday dishes would be ready. He even involves his little sister who adds her own very special ingredients to the mix. The illustrations cleverly fill in details omitted in the text, showing us just how Eddie, Lilly, Mum and even the chicken make the party a success. Garland is an expert at depicting cosy, chaotic, loving and, in this case aromatic, family homes. This may or may not be the everyday tale of a single mum but it is a wonderful story of three generations coming together to share and celebrate a very special day.
And Tango Makes Three
Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, ill. Henry Cole, Simon and Schuster, 32pp, 978 1 8473 8148 4, £6.99 pbk
This is the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins who lived in Central Park Zoo in New York. The Zoo Keeper noticed that Roy and Silo were only interested in being together and that each year they built a nest of stones just like the other penguins. So he took an egg from another penguin couple that they could not look after and gave it to Roy and Silo. They looked after the egg and successfully hatched Tango their ‘very own baby’. Tango was the first penguin in the Zoo to have two daddies. The illustrations are appealing, touching and emotion-filled. The strength of the book is how it subtly and cleverly represents a loving family through its animal characters and at the same time considers family in all its diversity.
Welcome to the World Baby (Bienvenue Au Monde, Bébé)
Na’ima bint Robert , ill. Derek Brazell, trans. Annie Arnold, Mantra Lingua, 32pp, 978 1 8444 4449 6, £7.50 pbk
Tariq comes to school and announces that his new brother was born at the weekend. He is delighted and has brought dates to celebrate. The children in his class are asked to think about how they welcome new babies into their families and to bring something to do with the five senses. The book concludes with a five senses party – where the children celebrate the birth of Tariq’s brother. The variety of ideas shared in the book provides opportunities for discussion, and exemplifies a range of cultural approaches to celebrating birth. Also available in English and Yoruba/Kurdish/Russian.
Picnic in the Park
Joe Griffiths and Tony Pilgrim, ill. Lucy Pearce, British Association for Adoption and Fostering, 24pp, 978 1 9056 6408 5, £8.95 pbk
It is Jason’s fifth birthday and he is going to have a picnic party. He has invited all his friends and their families. The picnic turns out to be a celebration of diversity. The families represented include those from different ethnic backgrounds, adoptive and foster, a child using a wheelchair, children with one and two parents and a single person. This very affirming book includes a place for children to list the members of their family and a template to use to add their own family to the picnic in the park.
Josh and Jaz Have Three Mums
Hedi Argent, ill. Amanda Wood, British Association for Adoption and Fostering, 24pp, 978 1 9056 6412 2, £8.95 pbk
Josh and Jaz’s teacher explains that all the children in the class are going to draw their family tree. The twins are concerned because everyone else at school seems to have a mum and a dad and they are different. They have two mums and a puppy called Bumps. Together, the family draws their family tree. The children recall how they were adopted and realise they actually have three mums and a dad. They take the family tree to school and feel accepted and valued by their teacher and classmates. This is an affirming story about both adoption and same-sex parents, which also values other models of family life.
The Visitors Who Came to Stay
Annalena McAfee, ill. Anthony Browne, Walker Books, 32pp, 978 0 7445 7706 8, £5.99 pbk
This story highlights the close relationship between daughter and father. Katy lives with her dad and occasionally visits her mum. When her dad invites Mary and Mary’s son, Sean, to visit she begins to feel lonely and left out. Although Katy likes the ‘visitors’ she doesn’t like the fact that she has to share her dad and she is anxious about becoming part of a new step-family. After Mary and Sean have left, Katy realises that something is missing. Only when her dad suggests visiting Mary and Sean does Katy understand that she has been missing them. Anthony Browne’s illustrations capture the sense that Katy’s life is dull, predictable and humourless until Mary and Sean come along. When they arrive everything changes. Light, colour and laughter flood the pages. It is difficult to look at these illustrations, with their clever visual jokes, without joining in the fun. However, this does not detract from a consideration of the tensions and stresses that can occur when two families decide to move in together.
Jeannie Baker, Walker, 48pp, 978 1 4063 0914 0, £12.99 hbk
Mirror is really two books in one: the first, reading from right to left, illustrates the life of a boy and his family in Morocco; the second, reading from left to right, shows the life of a family in Sydney, Australia. The book is designed so that both stories are read simultaneously. With no text, there is much to discuss drawn from inference and deduction from the beautiful and detailed collages. Mirror was conceived at a time of increasing distrust of foreigners. Baker, through an inspirational use of the picture book format, makes it possible for the reader to compare and contrast the lives of these two families and see that although there are differences they have a great deal in common. It is important that children not only see their own families reflected in the books they read but also that they find books that take them outside their own experience to witness the families and lives of others. The brilliance of this book is that it does exactly that in just 48 pages.
Janice Morris is Teaching Resources Librarian at Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln. Richard Woolley is Head of Centre for Education and Inclusion at the University of Worcester. They are co-authors of the Family Diversities Reading Resource (www.bishopg.ac.uk/fdrr), an annotated bibliography of over 100 high quality picture books which is freely available for use by education settings, schools and other not-for-profit organisations.