What a pleasure—and a relief—to see so many picture books showing families that reflect reality! We’ve collected some of our favorite new—and not quite new—picture-driven stories that demonstrate how inclusivity can make strong storytelling ideas even better.
In the category of board books for the youngest family member, Barefoot Books’ Baby’s First Words, by Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens, and available in both English and Spanish, is a robust collection of activities and items encountered by a family of two dads and their toddler, with Christiane Engel’s colorful illustrating palette further complemented by her whimsical details, like the smiling wolf toes of Baby’s rain boots and the tooth brushing toy wooly mammoth. The dads include a bespectacled black man who appears to be the primary care giver and his partner, a white man who arrives home in time for the evening bath and bedtime rituals. In addition to nouns and active verbs, our family here encounters and names sounds, emotions, and prepositions, too.
New this spring from Barefoot Books is Here and There, a picture book for ages four to eight, by Tamara Ellis Smith, with acrylic and collage illustrations by Evelyn Daviddi. In this realistic and emotionally supportive story, Ivan learns to handle visiting his father who now has a separate home from him and his mother. That Ivan’s father is shown as white and his mother as brown offers kids from newly separated homes or not an opportunity to see diversity reflected in a loving family. Although Ivan’s parents live separately, they clearly support him.
Sometimes families are broken by parental death, of course. Just published by Pajama Press, the eponymous child at the center of Paula Knows What to Do, by Sanne Dufft, shows picture book readers as well as her sad dad how to cope with the moment by creating a fun-filled and distracting imaginative adventure. Here’s a story for three to seven-year-olds that both acknowledges grief and celebrates a child’s capacity to share her own resilience with a parent.
Confronting more directly how children from multiracial and
adoptive parented families are confronted by the casually cruel and ignorant assertions of some, Tilbury House’s Real Sisters Pretend, by Megan Dowd Lambert and with luminous illustrations by Nicole Tadgell, has already become a picture book classic. Instead of a parental voice explaining, lucky readers are provided a first hand experience with a helpful sister’s support when her younger sibling relays the objection an outsider has made about their family.
Coming soon to American readers from Cassava Republic, Mylo Freeman’s Hair, It’s a Family Affair offers a delightful way to talk about how family members both share traits and differ in them. Macy tells her class all about her family members’ diverse hair styles, from her grandmother’s once big and now more conservative Afro to her baby sister’s soft hair (which is shown to be red) to her father’s bald head. As ever, the author-illustrator’s paintings are filled with jolly expressions, multi-patterned clothing, and lots of energetic actions on every page.
Also coming soon to the US is Lantana Publishing’s picture book Maisie’s Scrapbook, written by Samuel Narh with illustrations by Jo Loring-Fisher. This celebration of family has both traditional and less traditional elements: composed of a mother, a father, and a small child, Maisie’s family is shown sharing music, food, and other cultural expressions. Her father’s traditions, like the author’s, come from Africa, while her mother’s European heritage appears in the details of her choices of recipes, musical instrument, and even clothing material. Maisie is a lucky child to be showered with much cultural bounty as well as parental love.