Told in the simplest language, this picture book explores different sorts of families in a way that even the smallest children will understand. Some families have triplets, others have older siblings and pets. Some families have two mommies and others have two daddies. Some families share children in different houses. Some families are large and multigenerational, others are just two people. Some families are blended, some children are raised by their grandparents. Some families live together, others connect from far away. But all kinds of families are still families and still full of love!
With simple sentence fragments, Cole writes in a way that is inclusive and deeply empathetic. She creates a space here for children to think of their own families, or those of their friends, and realize that any sort of family is a good one. Li takes that openness and creates gorgeous families that represent all sorts of families, some that are not called out specifically in the text. She takes care to include people of different faiths as well as people of all races, genders and ages.
Representative of many families, this is a book where children will see themselves reflected. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Second Story Press.
This wordless picture book follows the journey of one paper bag from its beginnings as a tall tree in the forest through the hands of a family. The tree is cut down, hauled away, ground up and made into paper which then is formed into a brown paper bag. Put into a box, the bag is given to a family at a grocery store. They take it home, draw a heart on the bag, and use it for school lunches. The bag is used lots of different ways after that as the boy grows up, taking it with him to college. There he meets a girl and they draw two hearts on the bag. It’s even there when he proposes to her. When they have a baby, the bag is part of the mobile over the crib, and a third heart is added. When grandpa, the bag’s first owner visits, a fourth heart is added by his grandson. The bag becomes worn and taped, but serves one last purpose that brings the entire story full circle.
Cole beautifully shows how small acts of reusing something can become tradition in a family. The book never seems like a lecture, always just showing and demonstrating how reuse is possible and its great potential as well. The paper bag in the story if remarkably resilient for so much use by generations, but I think we all have items in our families that survive despite being used by everyone, to be handed to the next generation.
Told in images only, the book is filled with fine-line drawings that shine with light. The paper bag is the only color on the page, it’s brown color becoming all the more warm and glowing and the red hearts popping with color.
A truly great wordless picture book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
The Shared Room by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Xee Reiter (9781517907945)
This picture book tackles what happens when a family loses a child. Set months after the death, the family is living in dim rooms with no fire lit. Shadows fill the rooms. There is a picture on the wall of their fourth child, who died by walking into water and drowning when she couldn’t swim. Her room is empty with her items still in place. Her parents visit the room every day and regularly watch a video of the little girl singing. The oldest boy was ten and shared a room with his brother. Then one day, his mother asked if he would like to move into his sister’s room. He agreed, then the emotions hit him and for the first time he is able to cry with the loss and the fact that she was never going to return. That night, he slept in his new room. A snowstorm blew in and the family lit the fire and gathered together in its warmth.
Yang’s prose is filled with poetic moments throughout this heartfelt story. Even introducing winter in St. Paul, Minnesota is done with imagery that opens this book with gray clouds and cracked ice. Yang’s depiction of a family in mourning is done with a delicacy and little drama. The sorrow soaks the pages, the shadows fill them, these moments are dramatic and terrible enough. The emotions ache in the prose, offering a Hmong family’s response to a tragedy.
Reiter’s paintings fill the pages with silence and shadow. She uses white space beautifully, positioning the family as a huddle at times and other times embracing the full page. She plays with shadows and light, using them to show the sorrow. The image of the older brother finally weeping is heart wrenching and very effective.
A quiet book of sorrow and loss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by University of Minnesota Press.
Della knows what it looks like when her mother gets worse, like when she had to be hospitalized four years ago and Della didn’t see her for months. So when she finds her mother digging every seed out of a watermelon to keep Della and her baby sister safe, Della knows that it’s up to her to help. She tries getting some healing honey from the magical Bee Lady, but the Bee Lady tells her that the fix may be more about Della than her mother’s brain. So Della decides to become the model daughter to give her mother’s brain a rest. That’s hard on their working produce farm where a drought is damaging the crops. Soon Della is struggling with the oppressive heat of the summer, trying to keep her baby sister under control, harvesting produce, manning the farm stall, and helping her mother too. When it all becomes too much, Della decides she has to leave to help her mother, which puts her on the path to realizing that she has to accept her mother and empathize before she can help at all.
This is Baldwin’s debut novel and it’s a great summer read. She has created quite a pressure cooker of a summer for Della where everything seems to be in crisis or falling apart and everything is entirely out of Della’s control. The high heat adds steam, the troublesome but lovable little sister adds humor but problems, and the drought adds financial pressures for the whole family to muddle through. Della throughout is clearly a child who takes responsibility for things, worries a lot and is trying to learn. She is entirely human, making mistakes along the way.
The focus of the book is on Della’s mother and her struggles with schizophrenia. Her refusal to take her medication any longer precipitates her more symptoms worsening. As her father tries to convince her mother to make different choices, Della gets angry with her father for his unwillingness to force her mother to do something. Her father demonstrates exactly what Della needs to learn, empathy and compassion for her mother and allowing her the space to make her own decisions about her life. This perspective is often lost in novels for young people about mental illness and it’s a pleasure to see it so clearly shown here.
A great book about mental health in families, this is a great pick for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.