A mixed-race extended family gets together for a tantalizing meal in this debut picture book.
A girl wakes to the smells of food—and the fun it promises—on the morning of family dinner night. The event is a ritual of morning cooking, waiting with her parents for her extended family to arrive, and greeting her grandmother and cousins. The kids, who are presented in a striking spectrum of skin tones, wait patiently for the meal, drawing pictures of one another and dancing to an uncle’s music selections. The table is brightly decorated, and the dishes are as delicious as promised. As she leaves, the grandmother tells the girl, “Our family is love,” and it’s a simple but powerful statement. Cooper’s words have a poetic flow, meant for reading aloud, with an accessible vocabulary that newly independent readers should find approachable. But the lovely, painterly images by debut illustrator Nelson are the stars here, combining realism with abstraction from the first page, in which smells are represented by flowers and vegetables right under the main character’s nose. Even more unusual: readers can customize the girl and her parents and grandmother when they order the book, with its website (lovinglionbooks.com) offering four ethnicities for each character. This feature may create some confusion since the arms shown in the first few pages—meant to represent the immediate family—have a variety of skin tones that will not necessarily match the customized characters appearing later. But this is a minor flaw: the story and pictures convey a potent universal message.
A captivating tale that celebrates a beautiful, loving family.