I’ve been blessed with a very big family, and now I get to share it with the world. Today is the release of Little Elliot, Big Family, the second book in my Little Elliot series with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (Macmillan).
What is family? Sometimes it’s the people you’re born to, and sometimes it’s the people you choose to be with. Throughout my life, I’ve been reminded that family takes on many forms. I think it’s a beautiful word, and the more flexibility I allow in its definition, the more love fills my life.
I am very lucky to have a mom and a dad, a sister and a brother. We lived just outside New York City in the house that my Mom was raised in. While my Mom is an only child, my Dad has 7 siblings and nearly 30 nieces and nephews. However, almost all of my Dad’s family lives on the other side of the world! When my Grandma passed away, my Mom’s best friend and her family made some room at their table and in their hearts, and we became a part of their family, and they became a part of ours. This was my first real lesson in the beauty of inclusion. We were there at every holiday and birthday celebration. My siblings and I grew up calling my Mom’s friends “aunties,” and their parents became like grandparents to us.
When I moved away to college, I made friendships that ran so deep, I didn’t know it was possible! We were all fresh from the nest, learning to fly together. Most of my friends were fellow artists, a community that I didn’t really have before. I finally had a group of people who felt the kind of passion I did. We all lived for creating art, and we needed each other’s support and advice. That bond has never been broken. This weekend, we’re all reuniting for a wedding, and that part of my family is going to grow even more!
After college, I moved across the country to Seattle. I came with no expectations, had no idea how long I’d live there or what I would do, but it was time for a fresh start. I also had no idea that the people I would meet there would also become my family, and I would stay there for ten years. Seattle is where I really came into my own. I was finally comfortable in my own skin, and I had a community that loved and supported the person that I had become.
I also met my husband, Dan, in Seattle. Two years ago, we were married, and family has taken on an even newer, richer meaning. We both have someone who is dedicated to being there for the other, forever! If that’s not family, I really don’t know what is. Meanwhile, I’ve acquired a mother-in-law, step-father-in-law, 4 brothers-in-law, 8 sisters-in-law, and 29 nieces and nephews (and counting).
As an adult, I have been able to travel abroad to visit my extended family in the Philippines and Ireland. Meeting all of these aunts, uncles, and countless cousins has really expanded my view of family (and the world). In Ireland, I was immediately treated as one of them, though we’d never met. I got to know the grandfather I never knew through the constant stories and laughter that I was immersed in. In the Philippines, the huge language gap never posed an issue in regard to feeling loved and included. When I met my grandparents for the first time, words were wholly unnecessary. We spoke with tears and embraces. Family transcends borders.
Now that I’ve moved back to New York, my family has grown even more. I have a real “kidlit” community that includes fellow authors and illustrators, my publishing houses, and my agent. They are my book family, people whose hearts are made up of pages. They understand what it means to share a story, and the struggle to tell it well. What’s most important is that we’re all here for each other.
And speaking of telling stories, I am so thrilled to share another of Little Elliot’s. One thing I must tell you about Little Elliot, Big Family is that every name you see in an illustration in the book is a family member from one of the many branches of my family. Some even posed for many of the illustrations. There is also a certain movie poster which appears throughout the book that has my parents’ faces on it. Keep your eyes peeled. There’s family on every corner!
When Little Elliot, Big City came out, I did not realize that I was beginning yet another family. Little Elliot has connected me with so many readers, young and old. It’s been humbling to watch as people let Elliot into their classrooms, homes, and hearts. Thanks for all the love. Little Elliot and I are so happy to have you all be a part of our BIG FAMILY.