By Maureen Tai, 3 September 2018
The first spread is a classroom scene. The thirteen desks and chairs are arranged in a circle, which is one of the first things Anna and Ben notice when we read this picture book together (the second thing is how few children there are in the class). A kindly, tea-drinking teacher poses a question to the bright-eyed and attentive students.
“The teacher asked us what we thought made our family special.”
What a good question. What does make a family special?
Anna spots the brown-haired girl at the edge of the page. The girl looks uncomfortable and her cheeks blush a furious red. She doesn’t have a family like everyone else’s, and we don’t find out what her family is like until the very end. But in the course of the thirteen page turns, the author explores the various permutations that the word “family” can take, and how each permutation is just as wonderful and endearing and special as the other.
The cocoa-coloured girl with dark curls piled up on top of her head has a mum and dad who have known each other since they themselves were in first grade. They are especially affectionate towards each other. “It’s kind of gross” says their daughter cheekily, as her parents exchange a kiss during a dinner at a fancy restaurant. Another girl with pigtails says that her parents can’t stop coming home with more and more kids to add to their family. With a kitchen literally crawling with children of various sizes and shades, this mum and dad put Brangelina to shame. A chubby red-haired boy complains rather happily that his two mums love singing loudly, despite being decidedly awful singers. There is a beautifully drawn scene of the boy and his mothers on their rooftop at dusk, the two women belting out broken notes that float up into the darkening skies. A porcelain-skinned girl with a China doll haircut alternatively spends a week with her mum and a week with her dad. That’s the fair thing to do, she muses.
Almost every kind of family that we can think of is showcased in this warm-hearted and engaging picture book. What we also love are the unspoken stories, told in the delightful and gorgeous illustrations, of how different individuals can live and love together as families in different environments. This is a wonderfully gentle and thought-provoking introduction to the broader issues of race and gender within the context of what should be safest haven for a child: their family. After all, a family is a family is a family, is it not?
For ages 5 and up.