5 books that celebrate unique families

Published on: 03 October 2023

Author Laura Henry-Allain MBE recommends five fantastic reads that showcase how different families can be.

I have loved books from an early age, despite being dyslexic. Even so, I cannot remember having books that showed a variety of diverse families; what was depicted was generally a white family that included mum, dad and two children and the obligatory pet. There was little or no reference to children from other types of families, including children with same-sex parents, those who are fostered, are young carers, have stepfamilies or those who are adopted, as just a few examples.

My parents divorced when I was young, and I remember the stigma attached to belonging to a single-parent household. Fast-forward 50 years, and although there is less of a stigma, some ‘non-conventional’ families still find themselves struggling to fit in to what is regarded as ‘normal’ in society.

We know that there are now more books that celebrate different types of family; children can now see themselves on the page. I was delighted to write My Family, Your Family, which was illustrated by Giovana Medeiros. By using the correct language such as surrogacy or donor, and illustrations that include the Gypsy, Roma and Travelling communities, for example, the book enables children and their families to feel that they do matter.

As a former teacher, I know how important it is that every child feels comfortable sharing who they are, and other children can learn about other families. How wonderful that we now have books that are able to do this.

Here is a short selection of books to share with children that celebrate diversity within families.

Families: A lift-the-flap board book about families

  • Author Pat-a-Cake, illustrator Louise Forshaw
  • Reading age 1-2 years

This board book is a great start to conversations with babies and toddlers about different families. At this age they are able to begin to recognise that there are differences within families.

Is That Your Mama?

  • Author Patrice Lawrence, illustrator Diane Ewen
  • Reading age 3–6 years

In this picture book, children are able to recognise that a child’s parents may not look like them and are still their parents. This book has a strong focus on the rights of the child and how a child can choose if they wish to share who their parents are or not.

Nikhil and Jay: Off to India

  • Author Chitra Soundar, illustrator Soofiya
  • Reading age 5-7 years

Another addition to the fabulous Nikhil and Jay book series! This is a wonderful read for children to begin to understand that there are children who have family members who live in other countries and the experiences that children have when they visit their family members abroad.

The Lost Homework 

  • Author Richard O’Neill, illustrator Kirsti Beautyman
  • Reading age 4-9 years

The Lost Homework, from the Travellers' Tales series, showing Sonny, who is from the Traveller community, using his many talents and skills over a weekend to help his family and friends. Even though the only thing Sonny doesn’t manage to do is his homework, this is a reminder that children can learn much from their family and friends within their communities.

My Life on Fire

  • Author Cath Howe, audiobook narrator Nneka Okoye
  • Reading age 9-11 years

We need to introduce children to the fact that family life is not always great and can at times be traumatic. My Life on Fire discusses the aftermath of a devastating event, as well as kleptomania and loss, in a sensitive way for children to understand these important issues.

Follow Laura on Twitter at @LauraHAllain

My Family, Your Family by Laura Henry-Allain and illustrated by Giovana Medeiros is out now.

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