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Family ties

Families come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations. The following nonfiction picture books present examples of this variety, with the common element being love.

petricic_my family tree and meIn My Family Tree and Me, Dušan Petričić creates an innovative introduction to the ordinary miracle of genealogy. Reading the book from front to middle, we meet the paternal line through five generations, Pops and Nana and all the rest. Reading from back to middle, we are given portraits of the maternal line, Gong Gong and Po Po and their parents and children. And in a glorious middle double-page spread we see the whole extended family; having met the whole gang, we can move back and forth, tracing and inventing individual stories. Cartoonist Petričić’s gift for caricature is put to joyful use here, showing one family in all its variations and particular beauty. (Kids Can, 4–7 years)

hoffman_welcome to the familyMary Hoffman’s chatty, informative Welcome to the Family covers all the bases — and then some — in its survey of how families are made. Friendly cartoon illustrations by Ros Asquith highlight various permutations, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in the art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the illustrations. The tone throughout is light and straightforward, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly” in families. A little teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary (“Two moms. I never had one“) or clarifying information. The final page offers this discussion starter: “How did you come into YOUR family?” (Frances Lincoln, 4–7 years)

alko_case for lovingThe 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage throughout the country is given a picture-book accounting in Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’s The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. Richard Loving was white, Mildred Jeter’s skin was a “creamy caramel”; despite their different racial backgrounds, they fell in love and married, only to be arrested for miscegenation when they returned to their Virginia hometown after the wedding. While the book is honest about the obstacles the Lovings faced, its message and tone are optimistic, the feel-good atmosphere reinforced by the pencil, paint, and collage illustrations by Alko and Qualls (themselves partners in an interracial marriage). Sources and a suggested reading list are appended. (Scholastic/Levine, 4–7 years)

nelson_book itchVaunda Micheaux Nelson’s The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore is a picture book adaptation of her work No Crystal Stair, a history of the National Memorial African Bookstore founded in the 1930s by Nelson’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux. Where the longer work had more than thirty narrators, this has but one: Michaux’s young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store’s doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux’s aphorisms (“Don’t get took! Read a book!”), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. R. Gregory Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. (Carolrhoda, 6–9 years)

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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