A family is like a Cake

Shona Innes and Irisz Agócs
A big Hug Book
Hardie Grant: 2020 (reprint)
ISBN: 9781760505714
AGE: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

After defining what a family is in broad terms—the ‘people we feel we belong to’—the cake simile is introduced.  It is used to explore the diversity of families—families can be made up of all different kinds of ingredients and combinations of ingredients; they come in different shapes and sizes too. The cake simile is used again later to consider how families operate when they work well (though not perfectly)—a good cake needs the right support and so do individuals within families and sometimes families as a whole need help too. Periodically, the cake simile is rested to explore a specific topic (how children are supported in families through limits and supervision to keep safe). There is also a note for parents and teachers that emphasises the role of families in helping children feel secure.

A family is like a cake uses a simile children will be able to grasp and relate to in order to explore a complex topic. The simile and its broad application in the text give parent-child teams a lot of scope to consider how the ideas presented in the book manifest themselves in their own family, so is appropriate for families of all different types and traditions. The text is positive about the role of families but acknowledges difficulties obliquely too (e.g. ‘cakes may not always turn out the way we hope; ‘some families may need some extra help to try to get things right’), so may be useful for families experiencing challenges.

Every Family is Different

Maureen Eppen (author) and Veronica Rooke (illustrator)
Serenity Press: 2018
ISBN: 9780648230465
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Cath Young

Every family is different is essentially a descriptive list of many of the different kinds of family structures that children may encounter. There is no more emphasis given to any one family over another, and thus the message of inclusiveness is inherent in the book’s structure.  Although the differences between each family are highlighted throughout the book, the final page concludes that all families are the same in one respect, and that is love. It is a book where children can find their own family structure and that of any friends or family, and see them all represented side by side. It includes blended families, single parent families,  families with two Mum’s, families with two Dads, adoptive families, foster families, nuclear families, step families, intergenerational families and families without kids. The illustrations are colourful, cartoon-like, and look like outlined pencil drawings. There is a lot of variations in the appearance of adults and children, including hair and skin colour, although as these are not realistic drawings the faces themselves are somewhat generic. 

Families, Families, Families

Suzanne Lang (author) and Max Lang (illustrator)
Penguin: 2015
ISBN: 9780552572927
AGE: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Families, Families, Families is an inclusive and heart-warming description of different family types, focused on different family structures and relationships. It is consistently presented from a child’s perspective with ‘some children’ starting most pairs of observations (e.g. ‘some children have lots of siblings, some children have none’). Though ‘children’ is used throughout, the illustrations depict all kinds of animal families. In the course of the book families with adoptive parents, same sex parents, single parents, and step parents are mentioned. Children who live with grandparents, aunts and cousins also appear. The book concludes with the equation of love with families.

This descriptive book about families is all heart but also has a sense of humour. The gentle rhyming text is fun to read aloud, the emphasis on love is affirming. The innovative mixed media artworks include quirky photo-style family portraits that have loads of kid-appeal.

Family Hugs

Michael Wagner (author) Adam Carruthers (illustrations)
Billy Goat Books: 2017
ISBN: 9780994251749
AGE: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Family Hugs is a short compendium of four rhyming poems on the theme of families. The first two poems (‘One Big Family Hug’ and ‘Someone’s Having a Bad Day’) stress the role of families in providing support for each other; the second has a narrative quality too and feels like a short story. The third poem is told from the perspective of a child who is navigating her family tree and fitting her unborn sibling into it. The final poem (two lines long) returns to the themes of love and hugs.

This compendium of poems is a wonderful way to foster attachment between parent and child. Overall, it provides a strong reassuring message that families are there for the tough times as well as the fun times. The illustrations are focused on traditional families (mum, dad, several kids, and a few pets) but the first and last poems use neutral terms like family and relative, providing opportunities to explore different family structures at home. The illustrations develop and add humour to the text, with a lively class of human and animal characters.

Just the way we are

Jessica Shirvington (author) and Claire Robertson (illustrations)
ABC Kids: 2015
ISBN: 9780733331640
AGE: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Five kids (three girls and two boys) from the same street each introduce themselves by name and then describe who is part of their immediate family and give some key characteristic about it (e.g. Anna and her grandpa make Dazzling Dessert Specials every Friday night). The structure of each family is slightly different and includes a family with mum, dad, and a grandparent in a key role, a family with two dads, a family in which mum and dad are divorced, a family with mum, dad and adopted children, and last of all a (female) single parent family. When each child finishes the description of his or her family the child then states, “we are perfect just the way we are”.  The conclusion asks readers to consider their family and observes that if there’s lots of love, it’s perfect.

Just the Way We Are is an inclusive celebration of loving families. It draws attention to differences and understands these differences as what makes each family special and unique. The illustrations show some racial diversity as well. They present, overall, happy families enjoying spending time together and complement the description of the families in the text, often exploring the ‘special characteristic’ with which the child associates his or her family. The concluding illustration presents all the families enjoying an outdoor party together and this is where we learn that the families are ‘on our street’. This is perhaps a subtle way of drawing attention to the common ground that all families share.

Love makes a family

Sophie Beer
Little Hare Books: 2018
ISBN: 9781760502225
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

‘Love is…’ the narrator begins and provides a series of statements that describe everyday ways in which families connect (e.g. ‘love is… reading one more book’). Each statement is accompanied by a two-page spread that depicts a different type of family (same sex, single parents).

Love makes a family focuses on the everyday moments that make up family life—moments that are sometimes challenging but often opportunities for connection. Sophie Beer adds some well-timed humour that comes out especially in the illustrations (e.g. mum fishing a dripping wet teddy out of a fish pond on the page that reads ‘Love is lending a helping hand’). The artworks don’t problematise or explain the different families they depict, moreover the similar palette of bright bold colours for each spread makes an implicit connection between all of the families depicted.

The Family Book

Todd Parr
Hachette Book Group: 2010
ISBN: 9780316070409
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

The family book provides a wide-ranging definition of what constitutes a family. It alternates between descriptions of ‘some families’ and statements about ‘all families’. In sections dealing with some families Todd Parr focuses on appearance (e.g. ‘some families are all the same colour…’), structure and relationships (e.g. ‘some families have two mums…’), and habits (e.g. ‘some families are neat…’). The statements about ‘all families’ appear periodically and tend to touch on emotional topics (e.g. ‘all families are sad when they lose someone they love’). In the course of the book blended families and single, same sex, and adoptive parent families are all mentioned. As with many of Todd Parr’s books the concluding statements address the reader directly (e.g. ‘Your family is special…’) and is ‘signed’ ‘Love, Todd’.  

The Family Book treats similarity and difference sensitively and puts a subtle yet consistent emphasis on the loving and supportive role families can play. The illustrations in bright block colours variously depict human, animal, and even alien families, effectively broadening the inclusive tone. The conclusion gives the overall effect of a letter or email—at least when you reach the end—providing a warm and familiar format appropriate for the topic.

It’s Big Sister Time by Nadini Ahuja

Illustrated by Catalina Echeverri

Harper Collins Publishers

New York 2021

IBSN: 9780062884381

Ages 2 – 4 years

Reviewed by Cath Young

“It’s Big Sister Time” by Nadini Ahuja focuses on the growing acceptance and inclusion of a new baby in the family, by an older sibling. The story is told in first person from the point of view of the big sister. It begins humourously, as she accepts the permanence of the baby, asking her Mum how long the baby will be staying with them. Gradually, with some prompting and support from her parents, the big sister learns to adapt to the new situation and begins to thrive. There are inevitable setbacks to the growing relationship which may be recognisable to the reader, such as when the baby knocks over a tower of blocks built by the big sister.  The reader is left in no doubt about the Big Sister’s initial lack of enthusiasm for the new addition, as a list of complaints about Baby is drawn up.  But the Big Sister takes on board the job of teaching Baby the “house rules” and in doing so makes space for the baby and renegotiates her own boundaries and role within the family. By the conclusion of the book the Big Sister describes the Baby and herself as “a team”.

There are many points within the story where carers or parents could stop and discuss similarities in their own families, such as when Baby makes a mess or needs to be included in family movie night, which requires the Big Sister to adjust her expectations. In the case of the movie night the big sister decides that she can now hold the baby instead of the popcorn, ensuring that she can still sit in the middle of Mum and Dad, thus retaining her importance within the family.

Through the colourful and culturally inclusive illustrations of Catalina Echeverri the reader can see the baby grow from new-born to toddler as the Big Sister grows into her role within a culturally blended family. The culturally blended family is represented by a variety of skin tones. The cartoon-like people, drawn with exaggerated eyes, could be interpreted by the reader to reflect their own backgrounds.   The faces are simplistic, but their expressive eyebrows, lips and eyes depict a wide range of emotion, which would serve as reference points for discussion between parent/carer and child as the reader observes the big sister’s reactions to various situations in the story.

The smaller size square hardcover format allows for portability and would stand up to the occasional bite of a baby sibling.

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