Books to Love Whether or Not You Have a Big Family (but Especially ifYou Do)

One of the great things about a good novel is how it allows you to transport yourself into a place or time or situation completely unlike your own and see what that's like for a while. Great picture books can do the same thing, and help my kids delve into new and exciting characters and circumstances. Their minds can be expanded, their horizons broadened. All good.

But sometimes, it's also nice to have their own life experience interpreted and validated in the books we read. For kids growing up in a larger than average size family, it can be a challenge to find books that can do that.

But I like a challenge. So I have made it a point to search them out.

Here are my seven favorite . . .

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Would it be weird if I told you The Country Bunny is my role model? That deserves its own post sometime. (Update: here's that post.) But she is. For me, this book is less a fictional story about how Easter Bunnies are chosen and more a parenting handbook for accomplishment-minded stay-at-home mothers of many.

The book began as a bedtime story Du Bose Heyward would tell his daughter, Jenifer. Little brown-skinned girl cottontail wants to be an Easter bunny (there are actually five, don’t you know), but is told by the “big white bunnies who lived in fine houses” and “Jack Rabbits with long legs” to “go back to the country and eat a carrot.” And “by and by she had a husband and then one day, much to her surprise there were twenty-one Cottontail babies to take care of.” Oops! But she doesn't defer her dream for long. She raises twenty-one industrious, self-sufficient little bunnies who both keep her house and help her nail her Easter-bunny audition. She then goes on to become an Easter-bunny legend for her bravery—bolstered and refined, of course, by raising almost two dozen rabbits. (more here)

Seriously, I want to be her.

But this was supposed to be about my kids, right? My kids love how each little bunny is given the right job for him, and how they help their mother. It's exactly the right blend of empowerment and domesticity, courtesy of 1939.

Not enough big families in picture books you say? Hey, how about a family with 999 children?

The illustrations are really stunning in this book by a Japanese author/illustrator combo, but so is the story.
"A Mother and Father frog smiled as they sat by a small pond admiring all their baby tadpoles ... all 999 of them! As the tadpoles grew, their small pond was simply too small for them and they began to complain mightily. They couldn't move, breath, and were sick and tired of being pushed around. Their Father stated, "We have a situation here," and it was decided that they needed to move to a larger pond. All 999 of the small frogs scrambled to the edge of the pond and began to hop away. Boing! Ribbit! Boing!"
The parents are loving to each other and their children. The sibling interactions between the tadpoles will be remarkably familiar to anyone with human children. The mother is nurturing, the father is brave, but it's the children (and the fact that there are so many of them), that saves the day.

We are big fans of the California Gold Rush story By the Great Horn Spoon! , around here, so when I saw this book, also by Sid Fleischman, on the dollar shelf at the used book store, I grabbed it. And, wow, what a lucky grab. We love it so much.

It's a tall-tale-style good ol' American story of Josh and Melissa McBroom and their eleven red-headed children: Will, Jill, Hester, Chester, Peter, Polly, Tim, Tom, Mary, Larry, and little Clarinda. They move west to Iowa to follow their dreams of having a farm, only to get swindled by an unscrupulous landowner, who sells them 80 acres stacked on top of each other, rather than the more traditional side-by-side arrangement.

The father of the family is loving, hardworking, and extraordinarily honest ("I'd as soon grab a skunk by the tail as tell a falsehood"). The whole family works hard together. And once they get that one-acre farm going, the results are not to be believed. It IS a tall tale after all.

It looks like a picture book, but it's really more of an easy-reader chapter book. It's long for a bedtime story, but good over a couple of nights, or as a long afternoon read, or for school-aged kids to read for themselves.

Looking into it for this review, I see that there are actually two more collections of McBroom stories McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm: Three Tall Tales and Here Comes McBroom: Three More Tall Tales , that just went into my Amazon cart.

Tops and Bottoms is a traditional "trickster" tale, with roots in European folktales and slave stories of the American South, but everything about it feels clever and new.

You can't help but notice that the book opens top to bottom (see what they did there?) rather than side to side as usual. The painted illustrations are rich and vibrant.

Hare is a father of many who lost his land to his neighbor when that race with the tortoise didn't work out like he planned. Bear is a lazy landowning bachelor, who is letting all that land go fallow while he naps on his porch.

Hare comes up with a clever scheme to offer to do all the work planting the land and split the crops with Bear, fifty-fifty. He lets Bear choose tops or bottoms, then plants accordingly, taking the edible half for his family and leaving Bear with the inedible half of the plants.

It's a story that shows that the hard work of a big family can really pay off. Plus, it teaches kids which parts of which plants are the edible parts.

And although the story is all in good fun, it's an excellent jumping off point for a discussion with kids about the moral implications of Hare's actions. He never lies, but he does trick Bear. But that ends up teaching Bear a valuable lesson. And Hare's cleverness and industry raise his family out of poverty. So, all's well that ends well? Or not? It's a good discussion to have.

Mrs. Peters might just be the anti-Country Bunny. But I still love this sweet and hilarious rhyming tale about the very real joys and challenges of having a big family. And so do my kids. One can hardly stop them reciting the entire story along with one.

Even as poor Mrs. Peters is driven to distraction by the picky eating of her seven children, she's a beautiful example of hard work and self-sacrifice. And in the end, not only does everyone find a meal they can enjoy together, she didn't have to make it. And she's back to playing her neglected cello.

Old Grandfather Bunny would approve.

Sweet and gentle and funny and whimsical and old-fashioned and fun, there's a lot to like about it. And there's something extraordinarily soothing about the soft brown illustrations of this 1941 classic.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard swim and fly around Boston looking for a safe place to nest, but they are always met with imperfect conditions, be it lack of peanuts to eat, or heedless bicyclists who threaten to mow them down as they stroll innocently down the sidewalk. Finally, a spot near Boston's Public Garden offers them an adequate home — no foxes or turtles to vex them, lots of peanuts from kindly park-goers, and the benevolence of a local police officer. (more here)

Once the eight little ducklings are hatched (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack), Mr. Mallard goes off in search of a better home for their large family. He finds one, then Mrs. Mallard must (with the help of a friendly neighborhood policeman) navigate the streets of 1940s Boston with eight children in tow to reunite with her husband.

Simplicity abounds, and you may even learn a thing or two about ducks.

And my newest favorite for last. We discovered this book at a friend's house just a few days ago, I bought a copy for us as soon as we walked in the door back home, and I just knew I had to share it with you guys. It's that good.
The Acerra family had sixteen children, including twelve ball-playing boys. It was the
1930s, and many families had lots of kids. But only one had enough to field a baseball
team . . . with three on the bench! The Acerras were the longest-playing all-brother
team in baseball history. They loved the game, but more important, they cared for
and supported each other and stayed together as a team. Nothing life threw their way
could stop them.
This extraordinary true story is told in a unique, journalistic style, complete with quotes from the brothers.

It's inspiring but never preachy.

The retro-feel illustrations could not be more perfect.

It's long, and the subject matter is more complex than most picture books, but that meant it kept the attention of even my twelve year old son, especially him actually. It's really a story for the whole family, toddlers to grandparents.

linking up for the Svellerella edition of 7 Quick Takes while Jen and the rest are at Edel!

So, those are my favorite picture books about big families, did I miss any that you love?