Seeing Qin Leng’s final art for this book was full of joyful surprises. My sons and I sat and turned the pages, taking it in turn to point things out and make little exhortations.
There is such a lovely lightness of touch to Qin’s work but when you slow down to look you see joy imbued in each of the family groups. The loveliest surprise for me was turning to the final page and seeing that within the narrative of the story, the classroom functions as another family.
My mother, June McDonald, was a teacher for years. She taught Special Ed at a number of schools in Saskatoon and I know that for many students she was the loving, stabilizing influence in their lives. Lately on social media, I’ve noticed acquaintances talking about favourite teachers from childhood. I know there will be many adults out there who remember my mother the same way.
My first school was Elsie Dorsey School in Regina, Saskatchewan. This picture shows me and my classmates at about the same age as the narrator and her classmates in A Family Is a Family Is a Family. After this year, my family moved away and I no longer remember the names of most of the children arrayed in rows here. But I do remember being at the school and staring at the page of an old Dick and Jane reader. I remember the moment that the letters on the page suddenly shifted for me and became the word “wagon.” I remember how in that moment the code was broken and I could read. Reading (and writing) became one of the great joys of my life.
The narrator in my story is nervous because she thinks she is not the same as everybody else in the group. Her nervousness arises from her family situation but there are all sorts of reasons for children to feel different. I’d like to pay tribute to all teachers where the classroom becomes a place where difference can be celebrated and explored and where the tentative, anxious child can be made to feel at home.
When a teacher asks the children in her class to think about what makes their families special, the answers are all different in many ways — but the same in the one way that matters most of all.
One child is worried that her family is just too different to explain, but listens as her classmates talk about what makes their families special. One is raised by a grandmother, and another has two dads. One has many stepsiblings, and another has a new baby in the family.
As her classmates describe who they live with and who loves them — family of every shape, size and every kind of relation — the child realizes that as long as her family is full of caring people, it is special.
A warm and whimsical look at many types of families, written by award-winning author Sara O’Leary, with quirky and sweet illustrations by Qin Leng.