Families come in many combinations, shapes and sizes; they can grow and change, and sometimes diminish, but the bonds stretch and strengthen with each variation.
Through thick and thin, highs and lows, ebbs and flows, family members are there with their unwavering support and encouragement. Though they might drive you absolutely barmy at times, they’ll spring to your defence at the drop of a hat, and also make you wake up to many things – often your own failings. There are times you might want to run for the hills or pack all your belongings in a spotted handkerchief, escape and set out to seek your fortune, until a witty family member cracks a joke and all is forgiven.
Though not always related by blood, birth or early memories, often our closet friends can feel like family. This is especially true for people living away from home, where friends, colleagues and neighbours’ kindness and care become all important.
We have many entertaining books celebrating and showcasing families in many configurations in all their diversity and cherishing individuality.
Tiny hands (0–4) will be enticed by the gorgeous illustrations in the board book Baby’s First Words.Join in with baby as she learns new words with a lot of encouragement from her two doting fathers. All the family, especially younger siblings, will be amused by the chaotic family trying to get through their morning in The Longest Breakfast. Many different combinations of animal families, including non-traditional families feature in Suzanne Lang’s glorious Families, Families, Families.
4+ readers will enjoy reading Rose Robbins’s debut Me and My Sister published by Scallywag Press. This charming picturebook about family with lively quirky illustrations provides a child’s eye view of living with a sibling with autism. A number of readers might relate to some of the challenges addressed as well as the joys expressed of a living with a sibling bond with a difference.
Early readers (5–8) are sure to find both humour and pathos in Grandad’s Medal. Martin loves hearing his brave grandad’s tales of travel and adventure. But soon he has to find his own courage and bravery. Divided into short chapters for accessible reading; dealing with family, love and loss and a very special bond. Fans of non-fiction will be captivated by all the facts about different families packed into All About Families by the dynamic duo Felicity Brooks and Mar Ferrero. The range of families will encourage conversation and awareness of our multicultural world. Check out their latest book All About Feelings, which is another fabulous book we could all benefit from reading.
Older readers 10+ will be hooked by the sibling adventure featuring brothers Martin and Charlie in Mark Lowery’s Charlie and Me: 421 Miles from Home as they set off on a trip to Cornwall. Will they make it back in time before their parents realise? Young Stevie wonders will she ever marry and be able to have her own family in Meg Grehan’s sensitive verse novel The Deepest Breath. There’s never a dull moment in Emma Donoghue’s successful stories of family life with seven children, four parents and one three-legged dog The Lottery’s Plus One and the follow up The Lottery’s More or Less.
As the days become longer and we head towards the mid-summer solstice, let’s remember to take time out to appreciate the people we share our home and our lives with. What better way to bask in the sunshine or enjoy the stretch in the evening than to share a story with a loved one.
Síne Quinn, MPhil Children’s Literature, is an editor working with Cubicle 7 Entertainment, and Irish and international publishers, CBI Book Doctor and creative writing teacher for the Bookmarks Programme at TCD.
Baby’s First Words
Barefoot Books, £9.99, ISBN 9781782853213
Pre-verbal readers will enjoy learning new words along with the baby in this beautiful board book divided into simple sections. Follow the Woolly Mammoth on every page as she listens intently to baby’s first words, including: ‘teddy bear’, ‘hoot’ and ‘Again!’ Curious readers will be captivated by all the words she encounters in her day encouraged by her two fathers. The colourful charming and warm illustrations depict life in a loving family consisting of an interracial same-sex couple with adorable daughter eager to talk and engage in conversation from making sounds to repeating simple expressions. An ideal gift for readers on the cusp of discovering the joy of learning to talk. (0–4)
The Longest Breakfast
Jenny Bornholdt, Illustrated by Sarah Wilkins
Gecko Press £7.99 ISBN 9781776571680
Youngest siblings might relate to the frustration of being the smallest member of the family, sometimes overlooked and often misunderstood or just not heard. The Longest Breakfast is an amusing tale of life in a happy, hectic and large family with constant comings and goings. Friends, neighbours, siblings and parents all try to figure out what the baby wants for breakfast with many questions and statements bandied around. Sarah Wilkins’s illustrations highlight the drama, especially the father’s exasperation and the baby’s clear, constant focus. (0–4)
All About Families
Felicity Brooks, Illustrated by Mar Ferrero
Usborne £9.99 ISBN 978147494907
An engaging book highlighting the many variations of family, including different generations and pets. Felicity Brooks writes in a clear, simple style and explores questions such as ‘What is a family?’ ‘What different sorts of families are there?’ All About Families is an informative resource to encourage awareness, understanding and connection. Blended families, same-sex parents, single-parent families, foster parents, adopted families and much more all feature to emphasise that family’s come in many forms. Mar Ferrero’s bright, busy illustrations are full of activity, and are a true celebration of family diversity. Ideal for every school library. (Age 0–4, 5–8)
The Deepest Breath
Little Island Books, 180pp £6.99 ISBN 9781912417186
Eleven-year-old Stevie lives with her mother. Her father lives away. ‘I know that’s not my fault. And I know that that’s OK’. Stevie is anxious that there is something wrong with her. She tries to tell her mum that she has a crush on Chloe, but she can’t find the words. She longs to know if it is normal for girls to like girls and goes searching for information. Many themes are dealt with in an insightful way, including first crushes and the close bond and intensity of single-parent families. The Mother-daughter relationship is portrayed in a tender, warm and heartfelt way. The Deepest Breath is an important, emotional, enlightened and uplifting story. (Age 10+)
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.