Books to Love Whether or Not You Have a Big Family (but Especially ifYou Do)

by | Jul 25, 2014 | Catholic Mom Book Review | 28 comments

One of the great things about a good novel is how it allows you to transport yourself into a place or time or situation completely unlike your own and see what that’s like for a while. Great picture books can do the same thing, and help my kids delve into new and exciting characters and circumstances. Their minds can be expanded, their horizons broadened. All good.

But sometimes, it’s also nice to have their own life experience interpreted and validated in the books we read. For kids growing up in a larger than average size family, it can be a challenge to find books that can do that.

But I like a challenge. So I have made it a point to search them out.

Here are my seven favorite . . .

Note: Book titles are Amazon Affiliate links, clicking and shopping through the links will help support this blog. Thanks! Or get them from the library. That’s good, too.

Would it be weird if I told you The Country Bunny is my role model? That deserves its own post sometime. (Update: here’s that post.) But she is. For me, this book is less a fictional story about how Easter Bunnies are chosen and more a parenting handbook for accomplishment-minded stay-at-home mothers of many.

The book began as a bedtime story Du Bose Heyward would tell his daughter, Jenifer. Little brown-skinned girl cottontail wants to be an Easter bunny (there are actually five, don’t you know), but is told by the “big white bunnies who lived in fine houses” and “Jack Rabbits with long legs” to “go back to the country and eat a carrot.” And “by and by she had a husband and then one day, much to her surprise there were twenty-one Cottontail babies to take care of.” Oops! But she doesn’t defer her dream for long. She raises twenty-one industrious, self-sufficient little bunnies who both keep her house and help her nail her Easter-bunny audition. She then goes on to become an Easter-bunny legend for her bravery—bolstered and refined, of course, by raising almost two dozen rabbits. (more here)

Seriously, I want to be her.
But this was supposed to be about my kids, right? My kids love how each little bunny is given the right job for him, and how they help their mother. It’s exactly the right blend of empowerment and domesticity, courtesy of 1939.

Not enough big families in picture books you say? Hey, how about a family with 999 children?

The illustrations are really stunning in this book by a Japanese author/illustrator combo, but so is the story.

“A Mother and Father frog smiled as they sat by a small pond admiring all their baby tadpoles … all 999 of them! As the tadpoles grew, their small pond was simply too small for them and they began to complain mightily. They couldn’t move, breath, and were sick and tired of being pushed around. Their Father stated, “We have a situation here,” and it was decided that they needed to move to a larger pond. All 999 of the small frogs scrambled to the edge of the pond and began to hop away. Boing! Ribbit! Boing!”

The parents are loving to each other and their children. The sibling interactions between the tadpoles will be remarkably familiar to anyone with human children. The mother is nurturing, the father is brave, but it’s the children (and the fact that there are so many of them), that saves the day.

We are big fans of the California Gold Rush story By the Great Horn Spoon!
, around here, so when I saw this book, also by Sid Fleischman, on the dollar shelf at the used book store, I grabbed it. And, wow, what a lucky grab. We love it so much.

It’s a tall-tale-style good ol’ American story of Josh and Melissa McBroom and their eleven red-headed children: Will, Jill, Hester, Chester, Peter, Polly, Tim, Tom, Mary, Larry, and little Clarinda. They move west to Iowa to follow their dreams of having a farm, only to get swindled by an unscrupulous landowner, who sells them 80 acres stacked on top of each other, rather than the more traditional side-by-side arrangement.

The father of the family is loving, hardworking, and extraordinarily honest (“I’d as soon grab a skunk by the tail as tell a falsehood”). The whole family works hard together. And once they get that one-acre farm going, the results are not to be believed. It IS a tall tale after all.

It looks like a picture book, but it’s really more of an easy-reader chapter book. It’s long for a bedtime story, but good over a couple of nights, or as a long afternoon read, or for school-aged kids to read for themselves.

Looking into it for this review, I see that there are actually two more collections of McBroom stories McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm: Three Tall Tales
and Here Comes McBroom: Three More Tall Tales
, that just went into my Amazon cart.

Tops and Bottoms is a traditional “trickster” tale, with roots in European folktales and slave stories of the American South, but everything about it feels clever and new.

You can’t help but notice that the book opens top to bottom (see what they did there?) rather than side to side as usual. The painted illustrations are rich and vibrant.

Hare is a father of many who lost his land to his neighbor when that race with the tortoise didn’t work out like he planned. Bear is a lazy landowning bachelor, who is letting all that land go fallow while he naps on his porch.

Hare comes up with a clever scheme to offer to do all the work planting the land and split the crops with Bear, fifty-fifty. He lets Bear choose tops or bottoms, then plants accordingly, taking the edible half for his family and leaving Bear with the inedible half of the plants.

It’s a story that shows that the hard work of a big family can really pay off. Plus, it teaches kids which parts of which plants are the edible parts.

And although the story is all in good fun, it’s an excellent jumping off point for a discussion with kids about the moral implications of Hare’s actions. He never lies, but he does trick Bear. But that ends up teaching Bear a valuable lesson. And Hare’s cleverness and industry raise his family out of poverty. So, all’s well that ends well? Or not? It’s a good discussion to have.

Mrs. Peters might just be the anti-Country Bunny. But I still love this sweet and hilarious rhyming tale about the very real joys and challenges of having a big family. And so do my kids. One can hardly stop them reciting the entire story along with one.

Even as poor Mrs. Peters is driven to distraction by the picky eating of her seven children, she’s a beautiful example of hard work and self-sacrifice. And in the end, not only does everyone find a meal they can enjoy together, she didn’t have to make it. And she’s back to playing her neglected cello.

Old Grandfather Bunny would approve.

Sweet and gentle and funny and whimsical and old-fashioned and fun, there’s a lot to like about it. And there’s something extraordinarily soothing about the soft brown illustrations of this 1941 classic.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard swim and fly around Boston looking for a safe place to nest, but they are always met with imperfect conditions, be it lack of peanuts to eat, or heedless bicyclists who threaten to mow them down as they stroll innocently down the sidewalk. Finally, a spot near Boston’s Public Garden offers them an adequate home — no foxes or turtles to vex them, lots of peanuts from kindly park-goers, and the benevolence of a local police officer. (more here)

Once the eight little ducklings are hatched (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack), Mr. Mallard goes off in search of a better home for their large family. He finds one, then Mrs. Mallard must (with the help of a friendly neighborhood policeman) navigate the streets of 1940s Boston with eight children in tow to reunite with her husband.
Simplicity abounds, and you may even learn a thing or two about ducks.

And my newest favorite for last. We discovered this book at a friend’s house just a few days ago, I bought a copy for us as soon as we walked in the door back home, and I just knew I had to share it with you guys. It’s that good.

The Acerra family had sixteen children, including twelve ball-playing boys. It was the
1930s, and many families had lots of kids. But only one had enough to field a baseball
team . . . with three on the bench! The Acerras were the longest-playing all-brother
team in baseball history. They loved the game, but more important, they cared for
and supported each other and stayed together as a team. Nothing life threw their way
could stop them.

This extraordinary true story is told in a unique, journalistic style, complete with quotes from the brothers.

It’s inspiring but never preachy.

The retro-feel illustrations could not be more perfect.

It’s long, and the subject matter is more complex than most picture books, but that meant it kept the attention of even my twelve year old son, especially him actually. It’s really a story for the whole family, toddlers to grandparents.

linking up for the Svellerella edition of 7 Quick Takes while Jen and the rest are at Edel!

So, those are my favorite picture books about big families, did I miss any that you love?


  1. Ingrid Vooglaid

    Thank you for these suggestions! 🙂 I have been looking for children`s books about large families for years and the best I`ve found only have up to five kids. However, some of my favorite childhood books were the Eight children series by Anne-Catherine Vestly. These are warm stories about the simple life of a family with 8 kids, 2 parents, a truck, a dog and a grandmother (all listed in the title of Estonian translation compendium) that at first live in a small apartment in town and later move to a tiny cabin in the woods. These books are for older children than those in your list. They might be a suitable read for a 10 yo and a read aloud for younger ones over a long period.

    My most favorite childhood book was Bullerby by Astrid Lindgren (Children of the Noisy Village in English). This only has up to 3 kids per family but 3 families are living so close to each other in a small village that children are as if from one family and they all consider the grandfather of one family as their own. There is a baby that everyone takes care of and lot`s of simple country adventures like taking a lamb to school, rescuing a dog from an ill-tempered owner, picking and selling fruit, visiting relatives with a large crowd of relative`s children to play with, preparing for christmas, etc.
    There is a sweet and beautiful film based on the book, preview can be seen
    Though, because the first time I saw the movie I was already an adult, I found the book left a stronger impression. But the film is beautiful.
    Bullerby (the name of their village in Swedish) together with Tjorven and Maddicken books by Lindgren were the most influential books that shaped the way I see the world, the kind of childhood I believe every child has a right to and the way a perfect household is run through the year in my imagination. Tjorven and Maddicken also have movies based on books, with several parts. Tjorven also combines children of several small families into one close group, involves a baby/toddler and the characters are living on a small island, thus a large part of their activities involve the sea.
    Maddicken only has one sister with another born near the end of the story and other children have a small role in her books but it is a great example of running a house through the year with homely traditions.

  2. Holly

    There are lots of great chapter books about big families too. My oldest is six so these are read aloud suggestions, but we all loved the All of A Kind series by Sydney Taylor (six children) and are currently reading Margaret Sidney's Five Little Pepper series. I can't recommend them enough – they are both so sweet!

    • Holly

      I just realized you specifically asked for picture book recommendations – sorry :). Maybe we will see the chapter book list next week? 😉 Thanks for this list – we have actually only read one of these so maybe we will visit the library today.

    • Kendra

      No that's great, I didn't have plans to do a chapter book post. But I'll have to start thinking about it.

    • Amanda

      Ooh, yes! Can we have a list of chapter books too, pretty please? 🙂

  3. me

    "The Rattlebang Picnic" by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. A married couple has a choice between " a wonderful speedy car that never breaks down, or we can have lots of chldren…" The wife suggests they just " have a few children – just six or seven- and make due with an old car…" The large family has a lot of adventures in their old car. A fun, fun book.

  4. Sarah

    Thanks for sharing this list. It is great! I am only familiar with a few, so I will definitely add many of these titles to our reading list.

  5. Alexandra

    Some chapter book recommendations!

    Ten Kids, No Pets and Eleven Kids, One Summer by Ann M. Martin (yes, of The Babysitters Club fame). I loved these books at a kid, and desperately wished to have a big family.

    Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney – the whole series is absolutely delightful.

    Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes by Frank Galbraith Jr. So funny, poignant, and real. The movies based on it are terrible, though.

    • Alexandra

      Oh, here are some more I forgot!

      The Boxcar Children and all its subsequent sequels.

      Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott (sometimes I think I love Rose more than Jo!)

      The later books of the Anne of Green Gables series, where Anne and Gilbert have their large family.

    • Ellen Johnson

      No one has said it yet so maybe these are obscure: The Mitchell's 5 for Victory is a great one, and that's just the first book in a trilogy. Hilda Von Stockum also wrote the Bantry Bay series which is about a big Catholic family in Ireland. Both these series are good read-alouds for older kids, maybe 6 and up, similar to Little House books.

  6. Miss Jill and Mister John

    Another great book is "A Mother for Choco". Although it is seen as a book about adoption, it features (at the end) a large family.
    PS- I think it is great for non-adoptive families to incorporate adoption books into their home library! Prepares kids to meet adoptive families on the playground and "get it" instead of wondering and asking questions about the family :). Not that I don't welcome questions.

  7. Rita Buettner

    Oh, we love Seven Silly Eaters and Make Way for Ducklings! I also love Cheaper by the Dozen for older children.

  8. Adrie Little

    #6 and #7 were staples of my childhood. And the Boxcar Children (but they never really argued, which was a little strange in my loud and fiery family.)

  9. Christine

    I grew up with The Country Bunny. I knew I wanted it for my own kids one day, so had actually bought my own copy before I was even married! I like the part when the Grandfather bunny says her babies must take up all her time, and she answers, "When they were babies, that was so, but now they are so well trained that they do most of the work for me." Ha – this is my grand plan 🙂

    I keep an eye out for books about big families as well, but I haven't had a lot of luck in the picture-book department. I can think of one where the character has a bunch of kids at the end (George's Store by Frank Asch) and one where the character wants to have a big family one day (When Bunny Grows Up by Patricia and Richard Scarry).

    That's all I'm thinking of right now. Thanks for the post.

  10. Kati

    I have a question about the Amazon links – if I click and then put it in my wish list, instead of my cart, when I eventually do buy it do you still get the credit? I want you to get the credit, so I want to make sure this works. If it doesn't I'll just come back to this post when I'm ready to buy!

    • Kendra

      Thanks Kati, that's kind of you to ask. I didn't know the answer, but I looked it up and it appears that the referral lasts for 24 hours then disappears. But blogs get referral credits on any purchase you make on Amazon when you click through to Amazon from that blog, not just products specifically recommended on the blog. I can't get credits for my own purchases, so I try to remember to always click through to Amazon from one of the blogs I follow, just so someone gets the credits. It's an extra step, and I don't always remember, but I try to.

      If you wanted to get to Amazon from this blog, there's a link on the sidebar.

      Thanks for the question!

  11. Layla

    Great list! The Country Bunny was a recent discovery for me, and it became an automatic favorite. I'm relatively confident that someday I'll be able to read it without getting teary.

  12. Anna

    We love Heckedy Peg by Don and Audrey Wood. My 4 year old daughter can read it by heart, which is saying something because it's on the longish side for picture books. Seven mostly good children have a lapse in judgement which almost costs them their lives. Clever mother saves the day. The witch is scary looking which my kids enjoy. Fairy-tale like.

    Putting these books on the list. Thanks.

  13. Anonymous

    We are a family of all boys so far (well except moi of course) so I was delighted to discover this Brothers at Bat book – that one plus the Seven Silly Eaters are on my Amazon wish list now, so thank you! Marla Frazee is one of my favorite children's book illustrators (signs you are a certified book nerd; you have favorite illustrators) so I am always excited to find a new gem of hers.

    I find it so interesting that when we read picture books saved from my childhood, the illustrations of families often show 3 or 4 children as the default "normal" family, but more recent kids' book have only one or two. I realized this again when I was trying to find a book about welcoming another sibling to the family – all the books I can find now are only about a big brother or sister welcoming a new baby, nothing with multiple siblings adding another. Sign of the times, it seems…Would love to know of any more books that show a family growing in number!

  14. Ingrid Vooglaid

    I remembered a book that ends with a comment that when the main character (an only child) grew up, she had 10 children and they all behaved delightfully in the church. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. A great fantasy book for girls. The movie that was based on it (Secret of the Moonacre) is horrid. Characters have been twisted to have completely different, mocked personalities. But the book is wonderful.

  15. Nanacamille

    I have read several of them to the kids and loved them. I have ordered the Mcbroom one for the Warme girls from your site since it's Iowa.

  16. Abby S.

    "Seven Silly Eaters" is possibly my favorite picture book of all time. Thanks for a few new suggestions for big families! We also like "Seven Chinese Brothers" and "The Wild Swans," a Susan Jeffers-retelling of Hans Christian Anderson – a sister shows great loyalty and self-sacrifice to save her 11 enchanted brothers.

  17. Amanda

    I got Country Bunny from the library and kept thinking – I need more kids! How can assign more jobs with only 4 kids?? 🙂

    I want to be Mother Bunny too.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

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