Teaching kids the meaning of family
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner, author Stephen Green and illustrator Edmund Holmes of A Little Book About Family. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Well, I'm so glad that you're both on the podcast today talking to me about family.
I'd love for you to share. If you're comfortable sharing what your own family looks like. Who's in your family Mundo?
Mundo: I have a lot of family. I have a lot of aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers. Mom and dad, grandparents, but also have like the family that I created in Portland through interaction from my work art and everything.
So Stephen's part of my family, Matt. I think you might be part of my family at some point. It's like, I think to me, just like good people that I can be around and interact with. And like, not only just enjoy their time with, but grow with as well. Family tells you the hard things that you don't want to hear sometimes, or they build you up when you need it. It’s just like a support system.
Yeah. And these connections, you're right, are the things that lay the groundwork for growing our family. Stephen, who is in your family, what does your family look like?
Stephen: My family looks like the people that live in my house, you know, my wife and my kids, that I have a blood relationship with.
But also most of my extended family here, especially in Portland, are Black and Brown folks that have a shared experience. They're people that my parents met in the seventies when we moved to Portland from San Francisco. Back then, you know, if you were in the grocery store and my mom saw another Black woman, she'd say hi.
And, long and behold, 40 years later, those people I call my aunt and uncle, and we had no blood relation, but they're family. And there are people that I go to bat for and would do anything for. But I think a big piece of how I define families, [is] folks that have shared experiences and that may be, you know, folks that you meet in college that are in the dorms with you that have very big, different backgrounds—-but you have a moment in time where you have some shared experiences that bring you together.
I'm so grateful of you bringing up those two things. One, that sometimes family starts with just seeing someone and saying hi and recognizing a shared experience; but also on the other side of that, sometimes it's people.
We wouldn't expect, we could end up being close with that. We share a moment together and that can draw us in Stephen thinking about all of us listeners on this show. Do you have any other ideas of how we can welcome people into our family to be that person? Even if those families look different from our own, what are ways that we can help draw people in?
Stephen: I think one of the best ways is to just see people. My dad used to talk about, as I was a kid, in order for someone to be found, someone's gotta be looking for them. And I think in order to have family and create those kinds of bonds, you've got to acknowledge and accept that you're looking for those folks and that you don't go through this journey in life by yourself.
We all need other people and that doesn't just mean a parent or a boyfriend or a partner. But that's the neighbor across the hallway at your apartment complex.That's the librarian at the library who puts you on to an author that you would've never found out. Those are folks that we share these connections with throughout life that we learn so much from.
I think you have to be open to the journey and embracing these other people whether they're put with you by birth or not; and embrace the strong role that they play in the person that you are today and the person that you will be tomorrow.
I like that sentiment that we can't always just sit here and wait for our family to grow. That we have to go out there and help grow our family ourselves, but by playing that role that we want other people to play with us.
Mundo, do you have any other ideas or recommendations for how folks can help grow their family? What worked for you when you've found people that you feel like you want to be in proximity to them?
Mundo: I think it's more about being open. Open to receiving people and understanding like everybody comes from a different perspective, but they also have [the] opportunity to affect their life in a positive way.
It’s just understanding and people's value is all different, but it can contribute and help your life. Also just being open to stepping out into new opportunities or putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. I'll do things that I don't normally do and I meet cool people.
And then it's like, I like that person now. And I communicate way more now with that person, because I stepped out into a new opportunity or I stepped out of my comfort zone. And I have new family now.
I wonder if that helps you grow closer to people when you're being vulnerable like that, stepping outside of your comfort zone. Actually, as I'm talking about being vulnerable, I think making a book is a pretty vulnerable act.
I'm willing to guess that my friend, Stephen Green, at least has not written other books before for zero to five-year-olds or their family. So what was that like? Stephen, did you ever picture yourself as an author of a book?
Stephen: I had a lot of really great help.
I'm going to lean back on the idea that we don't do anything by ourselves. And so, yes, my name is written as the author, but so many people played a role in the words that ended up getting onto that paper. Including the amazing illustrations that Mundo was able to create and help bring the feeling across of what I had in my heart.
[The feeling] may not have come out as great at times in the words. But you know, a lot of people put in this effort for it to happen, but I never saw myself ever, ever writing a book. As someone who you know, is very family focused, has always been a big advocate for kids, and being a positive role model in their lives. Whether they be the kids in my house or the kids on my street, it's something that definitely spoke to me in the opportunity to do it.
I'm just so thankful and to do [this] with the family, like Mundo, and to share in this [with] someone who we share so many of the same values, is just an amazing experience and honestly, makes it even better than if I had just done it by myself.
Mundo, I know that you make art that is hanging on walls, where people work, and that is the art that you make as part of design for products at Nike and other places.
Have you done work like this before though? Making illustrations for a book for children?
Mundo: I have not. I always wanted to do a book and I've talked about [it] since I was in college, but I haven't done it yet. I've sketched a lot, but this was a cool opportunity. Stephen brought it out to me and I was like, oh, I've never done that before.
It was cool and just the whole experience going back and forth, bouncing ideas off of [each other], and it wasn't just me creating these illustrations. Like I'll put them together, but it was me sharing. Getting feedback and understanding like how to talk to the kids at [that] age and just making sure it's deliverable and easy to understand, like the big idea overall is what we're trying to get after.
Stephen: I think the other thing that was so great about working with the team at A Kids Book About was they came at it from the standpoint of: we have everything we need to write this book. And I think the story that we often times tell ourselves as kids, and even as adults, is I'm not ready. I don't have the right background. I don't have the right degree. I didn't grow up in the right family. I didn't grow up in the right part of town.
And all those things lead to us, not doing the book or that's not, you know, reaching for the stars on something. And it was the exact opposite from working with the Kids Book About team.
They said, do you have everything you need? And we're just here to help, help that come through. So it went from, I would never write a book [to] heck yeah, of course I'm going to write a book. And now I'm wondering what the next book is going to be.
Yeah. I love the colors that you use in this book. I love all of the, the, the great pileup of faces and, and, and action, and such like vibrant word bubbles and things. There's so much movement in this book, but the thing Mundo that I feel like I really love the most of this is that you never have a person in this book looking forward.
Out of the book, but they're always looking off the pages, which to me is something so much about family that we're always looking outward at. Who else, who else can I draw in? We're never done in clothes. We're always looking out beyond, and I thought every page that you do, as well as I love the symmetry of the first page, what does it mean to be family and the last page?
So who is your family? The symmetry of the design of those two. There were a lot of things that I was just nerding out on a lot that I think whether it's our ten-year-old listeners that are checking out this book or, or ones with, with very young siblings or grownups, I think there's, there's just a lot to really delight in here.
You both did a beautiful job.
Mundo: Thank you. Speaking on a team, the team helped me a lot. Cause I was trying to like [think about] what is a kids book? And just try to draw what I think kids books are. And it was like using references and how people did it before, but it was like trying to, they told me just do you or stay to your style.
I normally do profiles using everything. So it was like trying to stay closer to that made it a lot easier for me. And it obviously like you appreciate it as well. Just how you said it. That was pretty deep. Just like looking and building on family versus just looking towards or to outside of it.
Stephen: It's such a great embodiment of the idea of what we talk about with what makes family and that's people that embrace you being your authentic self. And the book got better the closer we got to Mundo's true voice. I think that really, really shows as you go through the spreads, and it's amazing what can happen and how many people can love you for being a thousand percent where you are.
I think that's a beautiful spot to be able to get to—is to cut away the fakeness and the things where we feel like we have to make. And get to like, here's who I really am. And then people will say, that's dope. I really liked that thousand percent version of you.
Let's keep rolling with that. That's a great recipe for family right there.
Well, you both said such terrific things about family and connection and vulnerability, but I want to give you a chance just to share one last message for those readers and those listeners. If there's a message about family that you'd like to share with them, Stephen, do you have a message about family?
I think my biggest message about family is to take advantage of the moment. It's easy to want things to be different or better or perfect. But I think that you miss out on that moment, right? You miss out on the moment in the bathroom while you're brushing your teeth with your mom and your dad or your aunt or uncle there.
The moment you're able to share with a big brother, big sister. Be present for those and embrace the family that you have. Even if it's not the family that you want.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. Today we spoke with Stephen Green, the author of A Little Book About Family, and Edmund Holmes, the designer and illustrator of A Little Book About Family.