After a year of living very near to my nearest and dearest, I sometimes feel as if the nuclear unit gets a bit radioactive. My gang gets bogged down by the sameness of COVID life, our family feuds looping like gifs.
Parents and caregivers haven’t had the same access to our social networks or supportive institutions like school and church, so we’ve borne the weight ourselves. But man was not meant to be alone–we learned that at the beginning–and “every man to his own tent” was not an ideal Biblical situation either. So we wait, hoping the weight will shift soon, hoping we can pass through this moment with grace. Some days, though, I feel less like Mom and more like Atlas, holding up my family’s world on my shoulders.
Now, I won’t judge if you’re escaping 2020/2021 by reading stories about orphans traveling across parallel universes, free of family ties and tiresome responsibilities. I won’t judge if you’re writing them, either! Goodness knows I’ve killed off my share of protagonists’ kin.
But the best stories lead us back home somehow; they take us further up and further in, not out and away. They give us a hint of the Psalmist’s joy: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133)
I’m a big believer in Sarah Mackenzie’s Readaloud Revival and the meaningful connections made when a family shares stories. So how about some books we can read together that give us some perspective, that bind us together, that make us laugh and hope?
I’m going to coin a new term for this purpose: “family-positive.” Here are my criteria for a family-positive book:
- The plot centers around family dynamics (so while I want to be Mrs. Weasley when I grow up, Harry Potter doesn’t fit this category)
- Family members don’t have to share DNA, but the family has to have at least two generations central to the plot (which knocks out Narnia)
- Family members, while flawed, work toward healthy relationships with each other (sorry, Roald Dahl and The Twits)
I’m not saying family-positive stories are superior. In fact, many of the best books don’t meet these criteria. Bilbo spends most of his time avoiding his relations, and the Pevensie parents are practically hypothetical. This category may be a timely one to draw from, though, as we navigate a bizarre new normal that has started to feel very old and abnormal. I don’t know about you, but some days I look less like Rapunzel skipping around in her tower in Tangled and more like Billy Murray mid-Groundhog Day.
Below are some books my crowd love. This list is by no means exhaustive. I tried to highlight some older, lesser known books and ones about countries, religions, species, or ethnicities different from mine. If you’re tired of your own four walls, visit these homes in your imagination!
Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen – a picture book about a young Tanzanian girl and her doll, a rock she names Ava; she cares for Ava as her mother cares for a new baby, and the whole family helps when Ava goes missing
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman- a favorite picture book at my house, this rhymed recounting of Mrs. Peter’s efforts to please her many children’s picky palates speaks to my mother-soul and makes my kids laugh… and try more foods
A Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler – a magical picture book, this is a true story from the author’s grandmother’s childhood; when Marvel’s newly-widowed mother brings her and her siblings to live in a tiny, rundown house in the middle of nowhere, the family makes the place a home
Salt in His Shoes by Deloris Jordan and Roslyn Jordan – a picture book about the young Michael Jordan’s struggles with–of all things–feeling small and inept on the basketball court, written by his mother and sister
The Lighthouse Family by Cynthia Rylant – a sweet “found family” series of simple chapter books about a family of animals’s adventures tending a lighthouse
Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace – the first of a series of chapter books in which the protagonists grow up with readers, age 5-21; follow spunky, story-spinning Betsy and shy, gentle Tacy from girlhood to the early days of their marriages
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey – a hilarious, anecdote-packed chapter book about the Gilbreths, a real American family of 12 and their efficiency-expert parents; written by two of the grown-up children
The Good Master by Kate Seredy – a beautiful chapter book set in pre-WW1 Hungary about a city girl who goes to live with her country cousin’s family on a ranch, and the healing that comes with useful work, a simpler life, and loving relationships
The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren – a funny, honest, day-in-the-life chapter book following three families in early 20th-century Sweden; in my opinion, her best work (even better than Pippi)
I could go on and on, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll save some honorable mentions for the comments. What are some of your favorite family-positive books?
I hope these stories lighten some hearts under your roof as you laugh at the seven Peterses or the dozen Gilbreths. I hope you can build stronger bonds amidst uncertainty and isolation, like Marvel’s family or the animals in the lighthouse. And I hope that we can all give up our burdens to the one Father who can bear them.
“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30)
Featured image by pvproductions