Written by Cynthia Rylant, Illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1985
Awards: Caldecott Honor
It was in the summer of the year when the relatives came. They came up from Virginia.
The plot in a nutshell: Out of town relatives visit for an extended period
The relatives drive up from Virginia in an old station wagon, packed with sodas and sandwiches for the trip. They leave early in the morning and drive all day and night. When they get there, there is a massive hugging party and everyone is happy to see each other again. There’s a big supper and that night, all the relatives take up extra spaces in beds and couches and on the floor. They stay for weeks and help around the house when they can. They all have a wonderful time together and then head back to Virginia, leaving early in the morning and already missing the family they left behind.
Author Cynthia Rylant drew inspiration from her childhood in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia to create this wonderful book that celebrates a joyous family visit. There isn’t much plot to follow here, as it’s really more of a ‘slice of life’ story that reads more like a poem, actually. There are lines that are so evocative that I could close my eyes and imagine my Uncle Marty and his family (who lived in Virginia, which is why I probably jumped straight to them) arriving at my childhood home and all the fun and foolishness that accompanied their visits. I imagine that anyone with extended family that they love will find something they recognize in this one.
Stephen Gammell’s colored pencil illustrations bring even more warmth and personality into this reunion, by showing us a family of varying ages and sizes and dispositions. We get to see them working, playing and living together and it underscores how much they all enjoy this time with each other. The family depicted here, both in the pictures and the text, are considerably more rural than my own, but that didn’t stop it from making me a little teary, remembering the wonderful times we had with our extended family, especially those who are gone now.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that extended family makes ordinary life so much more interesting.