What is family? Picture books about loving families in many forms
What is family?
As a kid, most of the books I read implied there was one answer to the question “what is family?” They showed families like mine: a mom, a dad, two kids, all of the same ethnicity (usually white). Grandma and Grandpa might appear on a holiday in the book.
I never really thought about how other children, whose families did not fit this particular form, might feel reading these books.
Fortunately, there are many more children’s books today that provide kids with a more diverse picture to answer the question “what is family?” Today I’m sharing my favorite picture books that show families in many forms.
Be sure to download our free “My Story” activity sheets that help kids explore their own families, names, and more.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to my Amazon Associates account, as well as links to my Barefoot Books storefront. If you purchase items through these links, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Children’s Books That Show There’s More Than One Answer to “What is Family?”
Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang
Using quirky animals to illustrate their examples, this simple picture books shows kids that the common element in families is love. Some kids live with one dad, and some have two moms. Some children live with their grandparents, and some live with their aunt. This light-hearted book is a good way to show the youngest children that there’s no one typical form a family takes. (Recommended for ages 3 – 6).
The Barefoot Book of Children by Tessa Strickland, Kate DePalma, and David Dean
This is my all-time favorite book to start diversity discussions of all kinds with children. (You can read my in-depth review of the book here.) The concept behind the book is that “every child has a story.” Throughout the book, multi-generational families, GLBT families, multiracial families, single parents with their kids, and many other forms of family are shown.
On the page spread where family is specifically discussed, I especially appreciate that foster parents are included. There’s also a reference to the possibility that “someone you love is far away.” A deployed solider is shown. This could also be used to talk about a variety of situations, such as a loved one being incarcerated or families separated by borders.
There are also illustrated endnotes after the story, and the note about family describes more ways a family can be formed. (Recommended for ages 4 – 10).
One Family by George Shannon and Blanca Gómez
One Family is part counting book, part introduction to the diversity of families. As children count from 1 – 10, the number of family members in each family increases. An older woman who lives alone with her cat is a family of one. Another is a multi-generational family of ten, baking a batch of cookies. At the end of the book, all the various families are shown on the busy streets together, where children learn “one is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” (Recommended for ages 3- 6).
What is Family? Books with Multi-generational families
Let’s Go See Papá! by Lawrence Schimel and Alba Marina Rivera
Sunday is this little girl’s favorite day, because that’s when Papá calls from the United States. It’s been one year, eight months and twenty-two days since he left her country to work in America. So, she writes to him in a notebook each day that she’ll mail as a Christmas gift. On Sundays, Mamá, Abuela, and their dog Kika join her in waiting for the phone call.
This particular week, Papá asks if she’d like to come live with her. As she waits for their trip, it’s a confusing time. Abuela will not be coming with them, and neither will her constant companion Kika. On the plane trip, the little girl realizes that thought she no longer needs to write in her notebook to Papá, she can start a new one for her Abuela. (Recommended for ages 5- 9).
Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
In this sequel to Amazing Grace, Grace struggles to answer the question “what is family?” She lives with her mother and her nana and their cat Paw-Paw. Grace loves nothing more than reading, but her beloved books are giving her the idea that “our family’s not right.” After all, her father lives far away in The Gambia, and she only knows him through phone calls and letters.
One day, Papa surprises her with two plane tickets to visit him: one for Grace and one for Nana. Grace is excited to meet him. But she’s also worried that Papa, with her stepmother Jatou and her brother and sister Neneh and Bakary, already has a complete “storybook family” without her. Through thoughtful conversations with her Papa and her Nana, Grace eventually comes to the conclusion that families, like stories, “are what you make them. ” (Recommended for ages 4- 9).
Download your free “My Story” activity sheets that help kids explore their own families, names, and more.
What is Family? Books with GLBT Families
Mommy, Mama and Me by Lesléa Newman and Carol Thompson
This simple board book follows a toddler through the day with its mommies. The gentle, rhyming text will remind babies and toddlers of the daily activities that make up their worlds, from rocking gently to eating a yummy snack. (Recommended for ages 1 – 3).
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown
Stella is unsure what to do when the teacher announces that all the children can invite a special guest to their Mother’s Day celebration. She has a Daddy and a Papa, but no Mommy. Read my full review of the book in this blog post.
Baby’s First Words by Christiane Engel
There are many first word books out there, but Baby’s First Words stands out for its diversity and the variety of words it introduces to little ones. Read my full review of the book here, which features a little girl and her two fathers.
For this category, scroll down to also read the review of Home at Last.
What is Family? Books with Foster and Adoptive Families
Maybe Days: A Book for Children in Foster Care by Jennifer Wilgocki, Marcia Kahn Wright, and Alissa Imre Geis
Children living in foster families face a lot of maybes. Maybe they will go back to live with their parents. Perhaps they will stay with their foster parents. Maybe they will live again with their brothers and sisters. This book does an excellent job of talking about the many different experiences children in foster care may have. It also explores the big feelings that come with all of the changes and uncertainties of the being in foster care. (Recommended for 4 – 9).
Motherbridge of Love by Josée Masse
This gorgeously illustrated poem celebrates how two women form the life of every adoptive child. “Once there were two women who never knew each other,” the poem begins. “One you did not know; the other you call mother. Two different lives shaped to make you one.” Through questions and answers between daughter and adoptive mother, the love of both parents is celebrated. (Recommended for all ages.)
Home at Last by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka
When Lester is picked up by his new parents, who are “at last and really and truly” adopting him, there’s a lot to be excited about. But he’s not yet ready to let Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert put his suitcase away in the attic. Lester is convinced that he might need it close by “in case anyone comes to hurt me.”
Every night after his daddies go to sleep, with their dog Wincka crowding the bed too, Lester shows up in their room with his suitcase full of toys. He wants to sleep right in the middle of that bed, where he’ll feel safe. But Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich are exhausted. What can they do to help Lester feel safe in his forever home? (Recommended for 5 – 9).
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz
This is the perfect book to give adoptive children a sense of the ecstatic joy their parents experienced the first time they met them as babies. We watch a mommy and daddy assuring everyone that yes, soon, the baby is coming. The excitement conveyed in the brightly colored illustrations lives up to the expression “over the moon.” As daddy drives to the airport, mommy is bursting through the car roof, filled with joy.
When they finally return home together, they whisper to the baby “forever and always we will be your mommy and daddy. Forever and always you will be our world.” (Recommended for ages 4 – 9).
Download your free “My Story” activity sheets that help kids explore their own families, names, and more.
What is Family? Books with Multiracial Families
Mixed Me by Taye Diggs and Shane W. Evans
Sometimes when Mike is together with his Mom and Dad, people look at them funny or say they don’t match. But his parents remind him that he’s a blend, and “we mixed you perfectly and got you just right!” Mike doesn’t want to pick and choose who to play with. He doesn’t have time for people who don’t get him, or who think he should tame his exuberant hair. This energetic, self-assured boy reminds all kids, especially those who are mixed, to be confident in who they are. (Recommended for ages 3 – 9).
The Favorite Daughter by Allen Say
Yuriko used to love art class and her name. But after the new art teacher calls her “Eureka,” all the kids call her that too. When blond Yuriko shows them a baby picture where she is wearing a kimono, the other kids insist that Japanese dolls have black hair.
It’s time for an “American” name, Yuriko tells her father. Father doesn’t tell her what to do. He does, however, know the places to take her that will help her remember what she loves about her Japanese heritage. (Recommended for ages 5 – 9)
Shopping with Dad by Matt Harvey and Miriam Latimer
Not every book that shows a particular type of family needs to directly address their family structure. Shopping with Dad is a funny, quirky book about what to do when we make mistakes. It just happens to feature a mixed girl whose father is white and mother is black.
She’s a typical preschooler, so she finds it hard to sit still in the shopping cart at the grocery store. When she sees that it’s making her Dad “quite stressed,” she does her best to settle down. But an epic sneeze results in a disaster that has other shoppers mad at her Dad. What can they do to calm everyone down? (Recommended for ages 3 – 7).
What Is Family? Books with Divorced Families
When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt and Jill McElmurry
This funny and believable animal tale helps kids navigate the complications of blended family life. Cardell the coyote’s life is mostly wonderful. His perfectly good mama and perfectly good daddy love him very much. They live in different parts of the desert, but he’s mostly used to it. His stepmama and stepbrother are perfectly nice. Plus, when he’s with his mama, he has her all to himself.
Until one day, when Otis shows up to court mama. There have been other coyotes who tried to win mama’s heart, but it never took long for her to realize she and Cardell could do without them. But what if Mama doesn’t tell Otis “Adios” like she did the other coyotes? (Recommended for ages 4 – 8).
Two Homes by Claire Masurel and Kady MacDonald Denton
This simple book is ideal for the youngest children experiencing their parents’ separation or divorce. Alex sometimes lives with Daddy, and sometimes lives with Mommy. That means two favorite chairs, and two bedrooms. Friends come to play when Alex is at Mommy’s house, and friends come to play at Daddy’s house too. Alex’s parents are reassuring that wherever they are, they love Alex. (Recommended for ages 2 – 5).
A Day with Dad by Bo R. Holmberg and Eva Eriksson
Tim lives with his mother, and his dad lives in another town. But today, Tim’s dad is coming on the train to spend the whole day with him. Wherever they go, Tim proudly announces that “this is my Dad!” The book is both tender and sad, as Tim does not want the day to end. My favorite moment was when, on the train back to meet his mother, Tim’s Dad stops everyone on the train to announce “this is Tim. He is my son. He is the best son anyone could have.”
Though Tim is sad to see his father go, he knows that he’ll be able to spend another day with Dad soon. (Recommended for ages 3- 6).
What are your favorite books that show loving families in many forms? Share in the comments!