Serendipitously, Laura Purdie Salas and I were seated next to one another at a Golden Kite luncheon a few years back. Though we’d just met, I cheered loudly for her honor award in the poetry division. As someone who loves to read poetry but is flummoxed by the writing of it, I have delighted in following Laura’s career ever since. She has encouraged me to look at leaves, water and now families in brand-new ways. Today, Laura shares about her family and how it inspired her latest project, Meet My Family! (Millbrook Press), illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman.
Meet My Family!
It’s funny to be here today inviting you to Meet My Family!, because when I was a kid, that was the last thing I wanted.
My family felt very different from other families I know. Among our many rules:
- No more than 5 hours of TV per week
- No sleepovers at friends’ houses (because—reciprocation)
- Electric bill overages were paid out of our allowances
And it wasn’t just the rules. It was the lack of connections. My best friends all seemed to have large, noisy, extended families always visiting, but not us. I don’t know why, exactly, though I remember one fight my parents had with rare visitors who expected freshly laundered towels every day. My aunt and uncle left in a huff, and I never saw them again. I met one older cousin a couple of times with his “good friend” (as my grandmother called him), but he died when I was still a teenager. And one of my sisters has OCD, which was not identified nor treatable in those days. She washed her hands hundreds of times a day, and the unofficial diagnosis was “crazy.”
To say that my family felt different is an understatement. I felt like my family came from another planet altogether!
Today, I meet lots of kids who feel that way. They are embarrassed by their family’s size, structure, religion, ethnicity, behavior, etc. It’s heartbreaking when a student “confesses” to living in a single-parent home, to having gay parents, or to some other family situation that makes them feel like outsiders.
I’ve thought a lot over the years about what makes a “normal” family and what book I might offer up to explore that question. Meet My Family! is my answer, though most readers won’t ever guess that it was inspired by anything other than scientific curiosity and cute baby animals.
The book is light-hearted and lively (despite its angst-filled inspiration), with 20 baby animals introducing their family in rhyming text, with more details in prose sidebars. From big families to small ones, families that “match” and ones that don’t, families connected through blood or adoption—all of these animal families work! And they have counterparts in humans, the final animals celebrated in the book.
I love writing about animals! I love mashing up poetry and prose and science. I love working in tidbits of different languages, and I love celebrating the diversity of our world. But most of all, I love the idea that this book might erase some of the shame so many kids feel about their families.
To me, my family is weird. In fact, my working title for this book was MY WEIRD FAMILY! But any family that has at least one responsible adult taking care of and loving a child is really the just-right kind of family. The rest of the stuff—color, size, gender, etc.—that’s all just details.
Former teacher Laura Purdie Salas has written more than 125 books for kids, including Meet My Family!, the Can Be… series (Bank Street Best Books, IRA Teachers’ Choice), BookSpeak! (Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notable), and If You Were the Moon. Laura shares inspiration and practical tips with educators about poetry, nonfiction, and more. You can learn more about Laura on her site or her blog .
You can also enter to win a free signed copy of Meet My Family! Click this link to Rafflecopter. Please note, you need to do the actions by clicking on the option(s) you want to do. That’s how Rafflecopter tracks your actions which enter you in the random drawing. Thanks!
Thanks for having me visit, Kirby! Your kindness and your books are an inspiration!
I can relate to your childhood, Laura. Alcoholism, mental illness, and abuse were all a part of my “weird family.” Thankfully, time and the beautiful family I created on my own has helped to heal some of that. I can’t wait to read this book! 🙂
Kimberly, thanks for sharing this, and I’m sorry your childhood had all these elements–and thrilled you have your own beautiful family now despite that. MEET MY FAMILY is more about structures and identities, but I would love to write a book someday that also somehow shines a loving light more directly on the uglier issues so many kids live with and are ashamed of. It couldn’t be about animals, because they’re smarter than humans, I think!
What a great post, Kirby! I also find Laura to be an inspiration. I felt like my family was bizarre when I was a kid, too. How funny that that should be so common. I always felt like a dodo in a world of sparrows. She makes the writing of poetry look easy, which it isn’t, not at all. 🙂 I will look for this book.
Thank you, Brenda–that is so kind of you! I hope you enjoy the book!
I just shared Laura’s book this past week, am so appreciative of her bringing to the world a celebration of all kinds of families! While I had a huge extended family unlike Laura, my nuclear family was different because my father died in WWII & so I eventually had a stepfather, and I had a different last name! I remember being embarrassed always having to explain and introduce myself–different! Thanks for sharing Laura’s story, Kirby and celebrating this new book!
Oh, Linda. Thank you for sharing my book and for sharing this. We have two beautiful nieces whose mom remarried after divorce. They eventually got two more siblings (whom they love and cherish). The family was close, but it did cause them the two older girls when the family got mail or was referred to as The XYZ Family (remarried name). They were the only two in the family with their father’s last name, still, and it was a point of feeling other.
Is there any kid who doesn’t at some point feel like an outsider, crazy-different, and a member of the world’s weirdest family? I love that Laura’s book embraces all kinds of families!
Thank you, Buffy! And isn’t that true. As kids, we’re all so fixated on what’s weird about our own families…we must just not notice that everyone else is as screwed up as we are :>)
Kimberly, Brenda, and Linda, isn’t it true how common feeling different is? Thank you for reading and commenting, my friends:>)
I’m really looking forward to Laura’s book, this line especially brings everything together for a family, what ever kind it is, “one responsible adult taking care of and loving a child is really the just-right kind of family.” I’m looking forward to seeing how all these animals are cared for. Thanks for “Meet My Family,” Laura, and thanks Kirby for hosting Laura!
Thanks, Michelle. I struggled with defining family, because the truth is, some kids are of course in families that are NOT just right, and they deserve so much better. I’m glad my definition resonated with you:>)