September 12, 2016

A Family is a Family is a Family

by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2016

Following prescribed curricula from across the country, teachers will be encouraging their students to share details about their families and what makes them special, just like the students in Sara O'Leary's book in which a teacher asks her young charges what makes their families unique.  And though I suspect most children will see a version of their family somewhere in the multitude of families in A Family is a Family is a Family, it's Sara O'Leary's poetic inclusivity that takes the concept of family from an insular group to a worldwide love-in.

When the teacher first asks her students about their families, it is evident that one little child, who drops his eraser so that he can go last, is reluctant, knowing that "My family is not like everyone else's." (pg. 3) He's right, of course, because all families are unique.  From the little girl whose parents are heavily into PDAs, "It's kind of gross" (pg. 4) to the one whose parents "just keep coming home with more" (pg. 6) –I counted fifteen children!–

From A Family is a Family is a Family 
by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Qin Leng
to the children who are part of blended families, or have same-sex or divorced parents. But it's the last little child who finally recognizes that their foster family is still a family after recalling Foster Mom's affectionate answer to a rude query about which of the children were "her real children."
"Oh, I don't have any imaginary children," Mom said.  "All my children are real." (pg. 28)
Though I know, and children do too, that not all families are perfect or happy or supportive, Sara O'Leary's book celebrates families in all their forms–big, small, alike, different, blended, separated, adopting, fostering–as worthy of note, eclectic as they may be.  Her narration is a universal one of acceptance and appreciation for families of all kinds.  The sweetness of her message is matched page by page with Qin Leng's illustrations of children and parents of assorted colours and shapes, economic backgrounds and interests. The lightness of Qin Leng's lines and the whimsy of her colour and shape help portray a diversity of families that are as fluid as they are depicted.  After all, families can and do change over time, even if a new baby isn't the result of mom ordering him online, as one little girl suspects.  A Family is a Family is a Family is a book in which every child will find themselves, I hope, as Sara O'Leary and Qin Leng have diligently tried to include everyone in an assortment of situations that honour families at their best.
From A Family is a Family is a Family
by Sara O'Leary, illus. by Qin Leng

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