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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Stella Brings the Family

Author: Miriam B Schiffer
Illusrations: Holly Clifton-Brown
Published: 2015

'Stella Brings the Family' is a celebration of diversity in families. It captures the conversation of diversity in modern classrooms, wherein pupil Stella is pondering who she might invite to her class celebration for Mother's Day when she has no mum and two dads. The theme of difference or feeling different is approached so astutely in this book, with no homogeneity in sight; Stella's class is a multicultural milieu inter-spliced with single parents, extended families, same sex parents, and even a reference to working parents ( who can't make the celebration) thrown in there too. 

This book feels very fresh; it's a proud celebration of all families and is mightly inclusive. Sadly, during the litmus test that are my children, my five year old boy informed me that 'the pictures say the book is for girls' (which makes me realise how important it is to read books about diversity!) but I believe he's basing this observation on familiarity with gendered conventions in children's literature, in that 'books for girls' (eek!) tend to illustrate attractive people, and 'boy books' (argh!) generally play more on illustrating boogies, gore and the grotesque. Yes, admittedly, while the families are all diverse in some respects, they're all still beautiful and easy on the eye, smiling away and with great hair and fashion sense. Maybe 'Stella brings the family' is a a tiny bit too sickly sweet in parts then, ironic given that the overall message of the book strives to undercut gender norms, in that, when Stella is questioned by the other children as to who performs the roles 'of a mum' in her family, it's self explanatory for her that those roles are undertaken by a dad. 

The book does make a very important contribution though- it's really warming to see a children's book suitable for the preschool age represent a range of families, both in terms of ethnicity and dynamics. The narrative is very understated; there could have been a lot of unnecessary dialogue about how Stella and her friends came to be in their families but it's all implied and ripe for discussion with parents. It's a useful book for biological, foster, adoptive and blended families in that sense, and I especially like that the book closes on light quip, in that now the child with two mums is having to think who she might take to Father's Day. Stella of course, decided to invite everyone. 

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