The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was finally passed last week, meaning that my wife and I can now legally get married and enjoy full equality. Hurrah!! The Equal Marriage campaign has been a long fight and is a huge success for equality. It is a campaign that I am very proud to have been a small part of.
In celebration, I have been drinking a few cocktails and reading The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. The nature and definition of family came up again and again during the Equal Marriage readings in the House of Commons and same sex relationships and families were compared with bigamy and incest. As a gay mum, it was increasingly hard for me to watch people talk about my family in such negative terms. The Great Big Book of Families has been the perfect antidote to all that hateful, ignorant language. It is a brilliantly inclusive book that shows real families in an honest light. Each double page spread explores diverse family set ups and looks at different family experiences of subjects like jobs, school, holidays, pets, food and clothes.
Perhaps if Stonewall had given out copies of this book with their speaking notes the MPs would have found it easier to understand the nature of families today and the bill would have passed through quickly and easily. Imagine if books like this had been available when the people passing these laws were children. What a lot of time and pain could have been saved.
The Great Big Book of Families is included in the early years This Is Me! book pack produced by the genius team of Letterbox Library and Inclusive Minds. And for very good reason. I will never forget the joy on our daughter’s face when she first saw the page above and recognised her family. “I have two Mummies!” Delicious! Every child should be able to have that pride of recognition and every child can with this book. It covers such a wide range of families and family experiences, there truly is something here that every child can relate to.
It goes without saying that every colour and culture is depicted here, and there is a brilliantly positive illustration of a girl using a walking frame having a great time splashing about with buckets of water. Also a big hurrah for the boy in a dress. This has inclusion and equality by the bucket load.
I love the honesty in this book. It isn’t afraid to show family life as it really is, the ups and downs and the bits without the fairy tale ending. This is how it should be. I believe that children should be able to learn about the world around them and how they fit into it, and that there are ways to make the realities of life accessible to children. Poverty, homelessness, depression, loss are all difficult subjects to explain to children. But if a child has direct experience of one or more of those subjects then books like this can be hugely empowering and supportive for them as they see their situation and learn that they are not alone, that other children and families have similar experiences. How often as adults do we read a book to find ourselves and gain comfort from reading about a similar failed relationship, lost love or discovery of self? Children do the same thing with their books. It is how they learn about themselves and their place in the world. We shouldn’t worry about sheltering children from the bads and sads of life, we should be gently showing them that whatever they are experiencing is ok, is a part of life and that they can get through it or help others to get through it.
The Great Big Book of Families does this in such an accessible way that it becomes appropriate for a wide range of age groups. The short sentences on each spread act as a springboard for discussion, suggesting that some people can’t get a job or won’t go to school or can’t afford a holiday. The illustrations show examples of different kinds of jobs, homes or clothes. Everything here is set up for children to pour over, discuss and question. It is a book that you can read with a three year old, pointing out illustrations that are relevant to their life, and then with a seven year old, identifying links to their family and asking and answering questions.
This is an important book. I genuinely believe that this book could do much to support the children who need it most. I will be buying a copy for the Rainbow Library for the new school year. After all, the children who read it might be the lawmakers of our future.
Source: Our lovely local library.