My Family, Your Family!
My Family, Your Family!
I grew up in a single-parent home at a time when there were very few such child-raising situations. My family “model” was found in the pages of the Dick and Jane readers (Yes, I’m that old) where I saw the siblings, including baby Sally, being tended to by their stay-at-home mother while their father left the family’s picket-fenced home heading to his office. Meanwhile, my working teacher mother and I continued to live in two rented rooms in someone else’s home. Thankfully, today’s preschool children have access to board books like My Family, Your Family! that show that the term “family” has many meanings beyond that of the nuclear family.
Because Kathryn Cole’s text is quite brief, just two words per page, it is Cornelia Li’s illustrations, a mix of watercolour, coloured pencil, acrylics, and digital, that must provide the visual definitions of Cole’s words, and overall, Li does an excellent job not only in defining the text but also in being inclusive of Canada’s multicultural makeup. The first pair of facing pages repeat the title’s text, and Li’s “My family” has two parents, with triplets, encountering a woman (“Your family”) with a baby and another child walking in the opposite direction. The illustrations for the next pair of pages, “His family” and “Her family”, each show the focal child having two parents, but with both parents being of the same gender. Flipping the page reveals two adults and a child accompanied by the text “Their family”. Though the “their” could simply be understood as a collective possessive pronoun, Li’s rendering of one of the parents suggests that the pronoun could also be being used in a gender-neutral manner. The situation of shared custody families is treated in “Shared family” which shows a little girl carrying a suitcase and going down the front steps of a house towards a man while a woman waves goodbye. This is one of the family structure situations in which the meaning may not be immediately obvious from Li’s illustration and which may call for some adult explanation. However, Li gets fully back on track with framed “photos” of a “Large family” and “Small family”. Children might initially think that the three children and two different race adults on the next page are just another example of “Large family”; however, the accompanying text reads “Blended family”, and Li’s illustration of the children suggests a her/his/our children family makeup. “Grand family” may be a term new to many. Sometimes called a kinship family, a grand family occurs when a child resides with and is raised by grandparents. Children who are living in such a family setting should identify with the contents of Li’s artwork while other children might just see a young boy visiting his grandparents and sharing a meal with them. Possibly the two most challenging bits of text are “Here family” and “There family” with the former’s meaning being visually explained by Li’s illustration of three generations gathered together. To get across the latter term, Li places a little child on an older man’s lap. The man is holding a tablet while the child appears to be video chatting with a couple. The answers to unspoken questions regarding the couple’s relationship to the child and their reasons for being apart are left to the readers’ imaginations. The closing pair of facing pages reveal a park/playground area filled with children and adults, accompanied by the text, “All kinds of families!”
While accompanying promotional material from the publisher suggests a very narrow audience of five and six-year-olds, I think grade one students might be put off by the “baby” board book physical format. Not only a good home purchase, My Family, Your Family! should be found in all libraries serving the preschool crowd.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, is living in an empty-nest family in Winnipeg, Manitoba.