Why I Created This Guide
Gone are the days when the family unit was widely considered to be the one mom, one dad, 2.5 kids and a dog model. Now we find ourselves in the thick of the 21st century and that means redefining what we think of as a “family”. Do you live with your grandparents? Do you have two moms or maybe two dads? What about the divorced kids and their extended families? Foster parents, grandparents, adopted parents, it doesn’t matter who you have as long as you have somebody. In this kit we explore the wide and wonderful world of families of every possible shape and kind. If we want our kids to be open and accepting, there’s no better place to begin than the place they know best: home.
Books Discussing This Theme
The Family Book by Todd Parr
With bright, simple pictures and simple text, Parr brings his customary friendliness and fun to the topic of “family”. Wonderful for very young and older readers alike. Ages 3-5.
All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman
A clever book for the very young. Showing that all kinds of objects, from bottle caps to buttons to ring, can have different kinds of families, the book makes it clear that family is all-inclusive, no matter what it looks like. Ages 3-6.
Who’s In My Family? by Robie H. Harris
Nellie and Gus are going to the zoo and as they go they learn all about families of every shape and size. Multicultural characters and diverse families abound in this fun, straightforward tale. Ages 3-6.
Families by Susan Kuklin
Fun and fabulous photographs make these different families really come to life. Looking at 15 different families the book really examines each child and his or her own family as an individual. Beautifully done. Ages 4-7.
Families Around the World by Margriet Ruurs
Fourteen different children from fourteen different countries are featured with their fourteen different families. In spite of their differences it’s clear that a love of your family is the kind of thing that makes all children the same. Ages 4-7.
Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World by Anabel and Barnabas Kindersley
So cool! Not only is this a great examination of kids from a variety of different countries, but the families you find here are like any you’ll find elsewhere. Beautiful eye-catching photographs and fun writing. Ages 4-7.
White Swan Express by Elaine M. Aoki and Jean Davies Okimoto, ill. Meilo So
Far more than just an adoption story. Following a quartet of Chinese orphans and the quartet of parents that adopt them, this book is notable for the variety of kinds of families doing the adoption. The beautiful illustrations by the accomplished Meilo So don’t hurt matters either. Ages 4-7.
The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman, ill. Ros Asquith
A great all-encompassing book that covers families from every possible angle. Family trees, pets, holidays, everything is covered and the result is a broad swath of family life from myriad angles. Great for older kids! Ages 5-7.
That’s a Family!
This documentary made for kids of all ages looks at real families and discusses the many different forms they can take. Booklist called the film, “Enlightening without being didactic, this sterling production from filmmaker Debra Chasnoff is an excellent resource to get kids talking about cultural diversity and family life.” It received other commendations from Video Librarian, The Education Digest, MC Journal, and LA Parent. Watch seven different clips from the film here:
For younger children, Sesame Street produced this catchy little Family Song:
Dinnertime is often a great time to talk about families and how they vary, though don’t rule out driving in the car or just walking down the street! Here are some discussion starter questions to get you thinking and to get your kids asking.
What is a family?
Why are families so important?
What makes some families different from others and in what ways is our family unique?
How do different kinds of families make the world a richer place?
What would the world be like if all families were all the same?
How and why would it be challenging when you feel like your family is different from your friends’ families?
Explain to your kids what family history is. Discuss that it includes things that have happened hundreds of years ago, and also things that may have happened last week. Tell them some of your own family history stories. Do quite a few from when you were a little kid their age.
What kinds of traditions to families have? What are some of your traditions? Are there any new traditions you’d like to start?
On construction paper with paints, draw an “abstract portrait” of your family. Choose a symbol or design that you feel represents what makes your family different or special. Write a sentence explaining your symbol. In your portrait, challenge yourself to show what makes your family different and special.
Look at photographs or draw pictures of all the people in your family. Attach each picture to a piece of paper, and write the common noun describing this person (e.g., aunt, brother, etc). If you’re ready, you can also write one sentence describing this person and how they are related to you (e.g., My aunt is my father’s sister.).
Choose an older person in your family you’d like to know more about. Interview them about what they think of when they hear the word FAMILY and what family means to them. Record the interview on video so that you’ll have a record of all these memories for years to come.
About Betsy B.
Betsy is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta. You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.