Fascinating and reassuring, thoughtful and funny, Welcome to the Family by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith is a very special book about all sorts of different families and the ways children end up in them. If ever a book was cut and bound with love, this is it.
It’s the perfect book if you’re part of a family with step-parents, adopted siblings, or any sort of family which is not vanilla Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids, and you want your family to see families just like yours in between the pages of a book.
It’s also the perfect book if you are part of a family with Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids and you want to help your kids understand that there’s not just one way of being a family, even if all families do have one very important thing in common: Love.
All sorts of children (and parents) will find themselves in this book; they will see themselves and their family set-ups acknowledged and celebrated without judgement. And as is appropriate of any celebration there’s lots of joy, happiness and humour in both words and pictures. Reassurance that the child is loved and welcomed is the beating heart of this book.
A special cuddly teddy bear provides commentary at different points in the text, allowing children to feel ok if what they’re reading is new or surprising for them. Sibling rivalry, anxiety and the difficulties which can arise in any family are also mentioned; this remains a realistic, not a sugar-coated view of family life, and it’s all the more comforting for that.
Whilst I adore this book more than I have found easy to say (I’ve drafted this review many times trying to find just mix of exuberance and professionalism), I think it worth pointing out that although all sorts of families are included, they are all core, nuclear families ie parents and children. No explicit mention is made of aunts and uncles, grandparents or cousins, and yet these people too are very important parts of many families.
Sharing this book (or letting your child discover it for themselves) is an easy and enjoyable way to introduce your primary school aged kids to everything from IVF babies to the fact that some kids are brought up by two Dads. It’s honest, welcoming text is brilliantly brought to life by spirited illustrations. It’s unpatronising, unthreatening approach is a breath of fresh air. Simply put, this is an outstanding book, a book that fights evil and ignorance with joy, love and respect.
Inspired by Welcome to the Family we made a set of family puppets.
We started by taking a load of photos of each other, with our faces showing different sorts of expressions. I cropped our heads out and resized them so they were only 1.5-2 cm tall, before printing them out.
(Alternatively you could also go to a passport photo booth and get have fun there, coming home with strips of faces.)
Next we drew bodies and clothing. I gave the kids pieces of paper between 10 and 15 cm long and encouraged them to draw their bodies/clothes to fill the space; if your printed head is about 2 cm big, you’ll need the bodies to be between 10 and 15 cm long if you want them to be approximately in proportion to the heads. The kids found the scale issue a little difficult to begin with, but it definitely helped to give them rectangles of paper approximately the right size, rather than big sheets of paper.
We cut out the heads and bodies and stuck them onto wooden barbecue skewers using label stickers, but you could use tape.
Now we were ready to act out all sorts of family dramas!
Whilst making our family puppets we listened to:
Other activities which could work well alongside reading Welcome to the Family include these:
What are your favourite books about families?
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Welcome to the Family by the publisher.