Family Traditions in Picture Books
I am a very nostalgic person. When I take people on a tour of my house, I am most proud of the objects that have special memories attached to them.
For instance, the first old coffeepot in my collection is just like my Great-Aunt Jen’s—what I call a double-decker coffeepot. My mom and sisters would chat in Aunt Jen’s kitchen with her while she made coffee. She had mischievous eyes and a youthful giggle, and I remember lots of laughter during our visits.
Each summer when I was growing up, my dad remodeled another room of our farm house. Decades later, I found some old molding from our living room doorway in the old granary, where Dad had stashed it. He made a shelf from it for me, and it is on my living room wall. On it stands a picture of the farm I grew up on, in a frame Dad made out of wood from our old barn.
And I have my paternal grandmother’s rocking chair; Grandma Wevers told me that she had rocked all of her babies in it. I rocked both my babies in it, too.
Families also hand down traditions. Before we could open our Christmas presents, we had to drive around to see the Christmas lights on all the houses in town. (At least it seemed like we saw ALL of the lights in town. Every single one. At least Baldwin was a dinky town.) I followed this tradition with my own boys for a few years, but by the time they were in middle school, they were no longer impressed. Not all traditions survive.
But some do, and these picture books describe activities, objects, and celebrations that have been passed down from one generation to another. Please comment if you have any other book suggestions, or tell us about your own family traditions and heirlooms.
A Fine Dessert : Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins (ill. by Sophie Blackall). 9780375868320. 2015. Gr PK-3.
Blackberry fool is a dessert that has been around for a long time and been enjoyed in many places. This picture book tells the story of four families, from an English family in 1710 to a California family in 2010, as they live and work and prepare their own versions of this delicious dessert. Readers will be interested to see how new inventions have made the preparation easier. A recipe is included.
The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing. 9780763663063. 2014. Gr K-3.
During a Thanksgiving Day celebration with the relatives at Grandma’s house, Gavin and his cousin Rhonda attempt to make it from the front door to the swing set in the backyard. To succeed, the pair will have to navigate around the huggy-and-kissy aunts and steer their way through the wall of butts! If they fail, they’ll be relegated to the kids’ room with the pesky toddlers. Good luck, kids!
Here Is the World : A Year of Jewish Holidays by Leslea Newman (ill. by Susan Gal). 9781419711855. 2014. Gr PK-2.
Follow nature’s four seasons as a Jewish family observes a year of holidays, including the more familiar religious events such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Chanukah, as well as less common ones such as a new baby’s naming ceremony. Rhyming verse and lovely illustrations combine to recount the family’s celebrations in their home, the synagogue, and outside. More information about the holidays is provided at the end, along with craft ideas and recipes.
My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth (ill. by Barbara McClintock). 9780439925457. 2014. Gr PK-3.
A young girl tells the story of her grandfather through the changes made to his coat. After his journey to America, the grandfather became a tailor and made himself a nice warm coat. As the years went by, the coat became a smart—and then a shabby—jacket, then a vest, and so on. As grandfather ages, readers can view the advances in technology as he snips and stitches and sews. Aylesworth adapted this tale from the same folk song as did Simms Taback in Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.
Whale Trails : Before and Now by Lesa Cline-Ransome (ill. by G. Brian Karas). 9780805096422. 2015. Gr 1-3.
A young girl is first mate to her father, captain of the whale boat Cuffee. They are the descendants of many generations that have sailed the ocean searching for whales. But their job today is very different from that of her ancestors. Facing pages of the book point out how things have changed—and how many aspects of their jobs are similar. Full-color left pages show the Cuffee taking passengers out on whale-watching voyages, while sepia-toned right pages describe the whale-hunting expeditions of long ago. This picture book does an excellent job of explaining about this aspect of 19th-century U.S. history, as well as teaching “compare and contrast” skills in language arts.
Here are some additional titles from a few years back:
All the Way to America : The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino. 9780375866425. 2011. Gr K-3. (This was one of my favorite picture books of 2011.)
The Granddaughter Necklace by Sharon Dennis Wyeth (ill. by Bagram Ibatoulline). 9780545081252. 2013. Gr K-2.
This Is Our House by Hyewon Yum. 9780374374877. 2013. Gr PK-2.
This Is the Rope : A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson (ill. by James Ransome). 9780399239861. 2013. Gr K-3.