All The World, by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, Little Simon, 2015
My hands-down favourite in our bursting library of picture books is one my children will never allow me to read to them. All The World – a wistful poem by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee – has everything I want in a picture book to teach my children about families and love and acceptance.
The softly lyrical, simple verse is made up of lists of linked words and phrases – ‘Rock, stone, pebble, sand’ it starts, weaving in the words alongside a picture of two children playing on the beach. The pictures tell the story as much as the words – you cannot read the book one without the other. Interwoven with snapshots of a seaside town, it tells the story of families of all different shapes, sizes, ages and colours. In all the images, there is love; between parents and children, siblings, partners, pets; between people and the amazing, sustaining world around them.
The pictures depict what seem at first to be disparate family groups – a mixed family; an older lesbian couple; a grandfather caring for his three grandchildren and a new puppy; a young mother breastfeeding as she studies. Even when things go wrong – in this case a rainstorm and a hungry tummy – the love persists.
When many of the groups we assumed to be separate come together on one page in a family party, the couplet ‘Babies passed from neck to knee / All the world is you and me’ still makes me cry – though I must have read it hundreds of times (even if only to myself).
This is a book that, without explicitly talking about diversity or race or sexuality, is about the inherent value of us all. Without saying it in writing, it sings out of the poetry and images: whoever you are, you are part of this world. You are valued and valuable.
I am desperate for my children – girls of mixed heritage – to learn this lesson early and learn it well.
But my fiery girls are fast approaching tweenager-hood (though they’re only 4 and 7). They likely indulged me when they were younger; but now when I ask to read this book to them, the older one groans and the younger shouts definitively ‘No!’ Her current favourite is about a gleeful girl who is adopted by tigers after her mother’s abduction by elephants.
I console myself with the notion that they already know deeply that they are safe, valued and valuable. I suppose All The World will be on our bookshelf if they ever need a reminder.