This imaginative, rhyming story invites us to think about how many different families there are in the world, created in all sorts of different ways. It explores diversity through playfully making families from lots of inanimate objects and has a repeating phrase that gives it a sing-song appeal – bottle caps, gingersnaps, buttons or rings, you can make families from all sorts of things!
Whilst I know there has been some criticism of this book for not explicitly talking about non-traditional or multicultural families, I have found a usefulness in the story’s lack of specificity about what makes a family, which I think gives it a broad appeal and makes it a gentle introduction to exploring family structure. Over half of the pages are creatively dedicated to thinking about families being made up of diverse objects as knives and forks, thimbles and marbles, pebbles and seashells. If I have any reservations, it is that although the illustrations are beautiful, there is a lack of variety in the human families depicted – a missed opportunity for true inclusivity.
I have often used this book at at point in therapy when the child is starting to show curiosity about where they have come from and what it means to be in a new family. Usually, this is when we have started to explore their life history. Sometimes it is even before this, as I find that many children start asking questions about when they were little, during Theraplay-informed work together. It is as if the experience of engaging and nurturing play and feeling safer in the here-and-now with their adoptive parents or carers, sparks the desire to start to understand more about who they are and where they come from.
I once worked with adopters and their bright little girl, who was very concerned about fitting in with her friends and getting things right. She had started to talk about her memories of her birth family in therapy and trusting that her parents could listen and still love her. However, she was very worried about people at primary school finding out that she was adopted. We supported her to have confidence that her story was her own and that she did not have to share it with anyone that she did not want to. We also thought about where and with whom she might want to share her story in the future and what this might be like.
Her class teacher was part of our therapeutic team that met regularly. She agreed it would be helpful to facilitate some classroom discussions in a general way about celebrating diversity in families and how families come in all shapes and sizes. ‘All Kinds of Families’ was one of the books that she read with the children. Over time this work cultivated a culture of safety and acceptance and opened up some wonderful discussions, in a class where there were several children who did not live with their birth parents. The little girl came home one day and happily chatted about learning this. Her parents reported how this was a turning point for her and how she seemed to become ‘more comfortable with herself’.
‘All Kinds of Families’ introduces the idea of family trees in a lovely way and invites children to look to the future, as well as the past, to think about how families grow and change over time. It acknowledges that everyone comes from a number of families. I think this can be very helpful for a child who has experienced moves between different carers and homes, and can open up conversations about ‘family’ in all its complexity.