BLOGS  >  NOVEMBER 30, 2020

Rethinking How We Define Family

BY JILLIAN HEISE


After the focus on holidays in December in the United States, and knowing that is a time often spent with family (though that may not be possible for many people this year during this global pandemic), my thoughts turn to picture books that show all types of family connections.

When I think of family, I have positive connotations to the word. I have a mom and dad who have been married for 45 years and two brothers. I am married myself and have in-law family.

But I have to also acknowledge my prospective bias and realize that not everyone has the family structure that I do. It is vital that all students are able to see themselves in the books that we share in our classrooms. But that focus is often on racial representation, and the makeup of families is not as often talked about. So after thinking about – and missing – my family during the holiday season, I wanted to showcase some picture books that highlight various types of families or focus on some other types of connections within families.

Several of these books are general ones that look at the numerous types of family structures one may have. Some of these books look at the generational bonds of grandparents. A couple showcase the love of families with same-sex or nonbinary parents. One highlights the sibling relationship and another a foster parent. Others look at the bonds with parents just by spending time together or thinking fondly of the impact a parent can make with their wishes for their child – even when not together. Some also look at the ways family might spend time together or have traditions and routines that they rely on.

I could have had a list of recommended picture books about family that was three times the size of this one. And there are representations I know I am missing in this set – either because they don’t exist in the current children’s literature world, or I just haven’t found them, or they fell off the list due to others being stronger for read-alouds. Ultimately, it comes down to choosing to focus on the representations that will support the students in my classroom, and also support them in knowing the types of people and families they may encounter in the world that are not like their own. And this list is a good starting point for you to start looking at books with a lens that focuses on the makeup of families and how those relationships are represented on the page.

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Jillian Heise

Jillian Heise, NBCT and MLIS, is currently a K-5 Library Media Teacher in southeastern Wisconsin. She previously taught Grades 7 and 8 ELA in the Milwaukee area for 11 years. Jillian is the founder of #classroombookaday and dedicated to supporting all student identities and lived experiences through access to inclusive literature. She brings her literacy expertise and knowledge of kidlit to her role as Chair of the USRA Children's Literature Committee. You can find Jillian online at Heise Reads & Recommends and @heisereads.

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