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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Best Family in the World

A question I'm often asked when conducting picture book workshops is, "Do you think that e-readers will someday replace picture books?" I've always answered, "Never," perhaps too emphatically, hiding the bit of doubt that I actually felt. But then along comes a picture book that defies the possibility that this literature form will be replaced anytime soon.

The Best Family in the World, written by Susana López and illustrated by Ulises Wensell, is such a book. Young Carlota anxiously awaits the arrival of her new family, and in her sleep imagines the possibilities. What will they be like? Will they be pirates, or tiger tamers, or pastry chefs? None of the above, as it turns out. But her new, ordinary family, while not as fascinating and adventurous as any she imagined, is in many ways even better.

The Best Family in the World is what a picture book is meant to be. It first of all is slightly oversized, just begging to be shared aloud. Its saturated illustrations fill the pages, to the very edges in most cases, with purposeful blank spaces playing their roles in others. And its theme of possibilities is fully realized by the illustrator's generous use of whole page spreads. Reading this book on an electronic reader would be akin to viewing the Mona Lisa on a postage stamp, and arguing that the latter experience was equally satisfying and edifying.

But it doesn't stop there. Like all excellent picture books, this one works on a number of levels. As Carlota imagines each possible family, author Susana López describes that family in a lyrical paragraph, the language pattern of which is repeated throughout the book. When considering her future pirate parents, for example, Carlota imagines that
She'd live on a pirate ship! She'd sail the seven seas, decorate flags with skulls and crossbones and look for treasure troves of gold doubloons. She'd carry a monkey on her right shoulder and a parrot on her left. She'd have a patch over her eye and a wooden leg. Yes, a family of pirates would be the best family in the world!
Students could use these same sentence patterns to create their own imaginary "best family." In fact, I liked that simple idea so much that I created a student activity sheet for that very purpose. Either individually or as a class, students imagine a new family for Carlota, and write about the things she'll be doing and wearing. If every student creates their own, this same activity could be turned into a guessing game. Each student in turn reads aloud what Carlota will be doing with her new family, and then classmates guess the identity of that family.

Not only would this picture book be a great tie-in to topics such as possibilities and families, but it would also be a great read-aloud for career days. And as far as I'm concerned, it's another book in a library of thousands that attests to the fact that picture books are here to stay.


Maureen Hume said...

What a wonderful review! I agree with you on the ebook thing, especially with children's books.
Would an ebook survive accidental...toilet/bath dunkings, juice spills, backpack tossing, left outside overnight and the very worst...vomit attacks? Real books seem to sail nicely through all these mini disasters actually gaining the aged patina of a much loved story.

Kelly said...

Aw, it looks like such a great book I am going to have to check it out!
I really hope that ebooks do not replace books ever, for kids and adults- books are way too special for that.