Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Book Alert: Families Around the World

Families Around the World by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by Jessica Rae Gordon (ARC provided by Net Galley, publication date Sept. 1, 2014). This book fits well with our current theme of books around the world. (See Part 1: Around the World in a Single Book: children.)

Families Around the World provides an introduction to 14 different families from 14 different countries and 5 continents. Each two-page spread is narrated by a child who provides a brief background about his/her family as well as varying topics including language, food, school, and activities. Colorful illustrations elaborate on the descriptions.

This book is geared towards preschool or young elementary students. The write-ups for each family are brief, around four paragraphs, and the illustrations take up the bulk of the space on the page. The book follows standard nonfiction formatting and includes a Table of Contents and a Glossary with pronunciation guide. There is also a note to parents and teachers that includes some suggested enrichment activities to accompany the book.

My main nit-pick with this book is the choice to use illustrations rather than photographs. Margriet Ruurs' earlier books on around the world topics (like, My Librarian is a Camel and My School in the Rainforest) used photographs to tell the story. The choice of illustrations here makes the families seem generic rather than based on actual people. (Margriet Ruurs explains in her Note at the end that all the descriptions come from real families that she has met or interviewed.) Because some of the families seem generic, it also makes some of them seem more like stereotypes than individuals.

It is clear that effort was made to embrace a wide-range of families and to both highlight and celebrate diversity as well as similarities. Many types of families are represented, including children with two parents, children with one parent, children with two moms, children whose grandparents live with them as well, and children with parents of different races. (Notably absent are children with divorced or re-married parents and children who were adopted.)

Some families do seem to conform rather strictly to stereotypical representations about their country of origin. The only family from Africa, for example, live in a Maasai village. There are no families represented from major cities in Africa, Central America, or South America. (The Brazilian family is said to live "near Rio de Janiero," but their house is shown all alone in its illustration.) This seems to be an important oversight in a book that has clearly made an effort to highlight other types of diversity.

Despite the critiques above, I still think this book should have its place in early elementary classrooms, as it provides an interesting but brief introduction to children and families around the world. I would suggest using it in conjunction with other similar resources (see my upcoming series, Around the World in a Single Book) to allow students a background to learn about similarities and differences around the world.


  1. Love your series- Around the World in a Single Book... Understand your perspective on illustration vs. photograph... was hoping that at the end there would actually be photos there for each child interviewed... Appreciate your thoughts... :)

  2. You're right, that would have been a perfect compromise. I think a kid could better understand the real people behind these stories if they were able to see them, even though the illustrations are lovely. Hmm, maybe you can suggest it for the 2nd edition!


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