Families come in all shapes and sizes. These books are all about families that don’t fit into the TV sitcom mold, and really how many of us fit into any mold ? Even if these books don’t represent your family I urge you to spend some time reading these or seeking out other books that represent families that are different from yours. Children need to understand that families come in all forms because what makes a family is love not some checklist of ingredients. This is not an exhaustive list and I hope to return to this theme again soon with more similar books. Also a note for parents searching for books like these at your local library, often they are on a separate shelf in a “Parenting” collection so you may need to ask your librarian for help.
On the Day His Daddy Left by Eric J. Adams made me gasp for air I was crying so hard. It was a great book for my son who is just starting to notice differences in his friends families, although the book is really geared towards children 5 years and older. It’s about a little boy who knows his parents are divorcing and his dad is moving out after school that day. Early in the book he writes a secret question on a piece of paper and throughout the day shows it to select people. When the question is revealed as ” Is it my fault?” I dare any parent not to choke up. My son was saying ” Mama, mama read it to me.” and I couldn’t I had to have a cry first. I think the authors did a wonderful job addressing both this little boys anxiety, guilt and the reactions of very loving and concerned parents.
Sometimes It’s Grandmas and Grandpas: Not Mommies and Daddies by Gayle Byrne is a wonderful book about grandparents who are raising their grand daughter. There is no long drawn out explanation about where her parents are, or what led to her grandparents having custody and I don’t think there needs to be. They are her parents, love her, snuggle her, read with her and love her just like any parents. She does wonder about her parents and shows signs of feeling different but the security and love her grandparents provide overcome those insecurities. The author’s note at the back of the book explains that she herself is raising her grandchild and offers more resources for grandparents who are primary caregivers as well.
Her Mother’s Face by Roddy Doyle is not really a book for very young children, but I loved it. I would read it with a child who is 6 or older , the text is long, the humor is subtle but the message is fantastic. Set in Ireland , a little girl is silently suffering from her mom’s passing. She doesn’t tell anyone she is sad, she doesn’t tell anyone she can’t remember her mother’s face or that she can’t talk to her dad about her loss. A chance meeting with a young woman in a park changes things for her in the simplest of ways. As the years pass her pain lessens and eventually she is able to talk to her dad who clearly misses her mother desperately too. I like that this book wasn’t about the moment her mom passed away, but rather years later, about how she was trying to hold on to the memories and deal with her grief.
That Summer by Tony Johnson. I read this at the library alone knowing that my 3 year old wasn’t ready for a book about death quite yet. I didn’t even try to conceal my tears, I wasn’t crying I was sobbing. The book is about the summer that one little boy watches his brother Joey get sick and die from Cancer. The author does a masterful job at relating grief, and the sadness of watching someone you love and don’t expect to die, get weak and leave us. As Joey’s condition worsens he learns to quilt and ultimately it’s his brother who finishes his quilt. I can’t rave about this book enough it simply makes the reader get it, as much as you can without ever living this particular nightmare. The line that haunted me was ” I learned a lot that summer, how to grin when your heart is in shreds..” that was the line that forced me into the “ugly cry”.
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee. This book celebrates all sorts of babies and all the every day things babies do. My daughter points out all the babies on each page as I read the rhyming text. So maybe you are thinking “What’s so great about babies and text that rhymes?” nothing, that isn’t what makes this book so awesome. I love this book because of its diversity, inclusion, and acceptance of all babies and families. The illustrations are full of depictions of all sorts of families showering their smallest most precious member with love . What I adore about the diversity of the illustrations is that readers are left to put whatever assumption we wish on the families in the book. What I assumed were two mommies my husband thought was a husband and wife, I thought a lady was a grandma and my son said it was just a older mom. This is why I love this book, my daughter doesn’t see why this message is outstanding, what she does see is all sorts of happy babies in all sorts of families being the norm and this is the world we want her to know.
Pablo’s Tree by Pat Mora is a great book. The author has successfully integrated so many wonderful things into one still entertaining and engaging book. The story is about Pablo who is excited to go to his grandfather’s house to celebrate his birthday. See his Lito ( grandfather) has a wonderful tradition of decorating his tree every year to celebrate Pablo’s birthday. The book explains that this started before Pablo was even born, when his mom told her father that she would be adopting a baby. I love that this book is about a multi-generation family, includes adoption without it being the only subject in the book, and its multilingual text ( Spanish and English) . It’s a gem, oh and my son loved it too!
Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman is a book about everyday life of a family with two moms. What I love about this book is that it showcases parts of the day that young toddlers through preschoolers can relate to easily. They have bath time, they go to the park, they cook dinner, in other words they are a family like any with a small child. My son loved this book and related easily to the baby in the book and to the experiences that they share. The book makes no political statement, no explanation of two mommies and it shouldn’t, it’s a book about one loving family and nothing more.
The Family Book by Todd Parr is a book that doesn’t give readers a narrow definition of family , it doesn’t say that your family has to look a certain way, or be the same as your neighbors. As a teacher I really appreciated the matter of fact way it embraced diversity. Kids see that families are not all like theirs and it’s important to validate the truth while recognizing that while they may not all look alike, all families are made with love. Great book, cute illustrations, and children love it.
Molly and Her Dad by Jan Ormerod was a great find. Molly doesn’t see her dad often because he lives a plane ride away and when he comes to take care of her things aren’t perfect at first. There are so many little things about this book I like. I like that there are details like baby photos of Molly and both her parents together, I like that Molly tells her dad how he is doing things wrong and doesn’t warm up to him immediately and I like how he doesn’t get mad. I think this is a pretty realistic portrayal of children’s emotions when spending time with a parent they don’t see often but still have a great relationship with.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson is a much-debated book. It’s the true story of two male penguins in central park zoo who didn’t have any interest in the girl penguins but definitely liked each other. When the zookeepers noticed that they were in every way a matched pair they also noticed that they prepared for a baby just like the other penguins. Time after time they were sad until they were given an egg to care for. Just like all families love and care is what matters when creating a family and baby Tango and his two daddies have thrived. My son loved this book and asked me to please go see the penguins when I was in NYC. I didn’t have time to but I wish I had. Their story simplifies a very debated topic and I think it’s a great book not only to explain how all families are different but also how love and care are really what makes a family even for penguins.
This is a great post! We are a family of 3, and I feel that we’re one of the few. Most of my daughters friends have siblings, and she will not have a sibling. So I’m always looking for books about being an only child, but I should be looking for books about different families, like these ones.
What a lovely round up of books. I’ve often read this to my daughter and we have laughed about it too. It’s called Two of Everything by Babette Coleman nad http://amzn.to/bLMo9J – it’s well written and illustrated and has been a great book to have around
I love Who’s in a Family by Robert Skutch, and so does my 18 month old son. It’s great because it talks about all kinds of families, including animal families! My son was conceived with donor sperm, so we have a lot of books about alternative families in our house and this one is a favorite.
My father is gay and has been with his partner for about 18 years now. My twin daughters haven’t asked any questions yet, but I think some of these books could help us with our talks about it…thank you so much for sharing, and I have forwarded this on to friends as well!
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You are welcome – I think it really helps everyone not just kids that see that their family may be made up differently than many, to see that families are like anything in life and come in many forms.
This is a great topic and list. I think this is something that a lot of us forget to talk about. I personally appreciated you mentioning the book ‘That Summer’. My brother died suddenly a few years ago, and while we were both adults these type of books are very helpful to me. I have a recommendation along those lines for pre-teens, teens, and adults. It’s “Umbrella Summer” by Lisa Graff. It’s the story of a girl (and to some degree her parents) coming to terms with her older brother’s sudden death. It definitely hit home for me, but I think it would make a good read for most anyone. This summer, I plan on passing it around to my (10 yrs or older) nieces and nephews.
Great post! Thanks for drawing my attention to it via we teach. I believe very strongly in the importance of using children’s literature to broaden kids’ horizons, and it sounds like these books do just that. I am a writer as well as a book reviewer, and in my own children’s books, I try to use non-traditional families as well as traditional ones. That’s because I believe it’s important for kids to have their own “different” family structure validated. Children need to know they are not alone in what makes them special.
Karen Homan says
I like most of the books on your list because teaching character is very important to me as an educator. However, teaching character is not the same as teaching an “acceptance” agenda for gay or lesbian relationships as being okay.
Karen I couldn’t disagree more. Acceptance is a character trait I believe strongly in. I know many people unfortunately teach an opposite view but on my blog all families will always be celebrated.
These are great. I have recently been researching kids books about living in foster family. I think it is important that that type of family be included too. I have think it would be a good project to fund raise for sets of these books and donate to school libraries. Can you imagine how reassuing it would be for a child in foster care, (or anyone of the above families) to find a book about foster families in their school library? It may affirm they they too belong to one of the many types of families!
Yes! I will be on the look out for a great book about foster families . One of our contributing writers is a foster parent herself and I am going to ask her too. Thanks!
Thanks – I’ve really struggled to find books portraying same-sex parents (not necessarily as the main issue in the book but just as part of it) so these recommendations are great. I’m also keen to track down your other suggestions at our library. I really want my kids to grow up understanding and celebrating diversity and books can play an important role in reinforcing these values.
Jen – I have to run to preschool but I have a list of a few others for you too. I will add it here in just a bit.
This is a great list of books celebrating different families. In this day and age it is so important to celebrate all types of families. Thank you for compiling such a fantastic list.
I love this list, such a great range of families and situations. I love The Family Book by Todd Parr, great book. And thanks to the people who have commented and recommended other books, I am going to check some of them out. One that I would recommend that isn’t on this list is “Why don’t I have a Daddy” by George Anne Clay. This book presents the basic facts of anonymous donor conception in a simple but loving manner. It uses animal families to show that no matter how many are in your family, and that each family is different, its the love they share that makes them a family.
Allison McDonald says
Thank you so much Rebecca – I will try to get my hands on that book.
Hannah Tonce says
Thank you SOO much for your in depth review of these childrens books. The information you give is exactly what I’m looking for to know when I’m looking into books/authors. Thank you, thank you!