Ever since Ryan LaLonde was 3 years old, he knew he wanted to be a teacher or an artist. Now the 36-year-old artist and illustrator is fulfilling both dreams — he self-published Families Come in Many Different Shapes, Sizes and Colors, a book that both entertains and educates children about the diversities within families.
“When kids start school, they realize, ‘Oh, my family is not like other families,’ and that’s when all the friction starts happening and people start being mean. So I wrote this story to help kids deal with that,” said the Libertyville resident.
Teaching Love and Understanding
Published in the spring of 2011, the book uses shapes and colors to teach children that it is love and understanding that make a family, and not whether family members resemble each other. LaLonde came up with the story in 1998, but did not know how he would present it visually until the summer of 2010.
“When (my son) Farber was born I was having a hard time with him on shapes and colors, so I decided that I’m going to make that story more about shapes, colors and family size, and make it for toddlers, because there’s a lot of stuff out there for kids who can read, but there’s not a lot of books out there for toddlers who have gay parents,” LaLonde said.
The story may be simple, but plenty of thought went into visually representing the characters.
“My goal was to make sure that none of the kids were the same color and that none of parents were the same color as their kid,” LaLonde said. “You’ll notice that none of them are the same exact color. I didn’t want anybody to be able to say, ‘Oh that one is mommy or daddy.’ I didn’t want them to connect the kids in that way.”
Empowering Kids to Have a Voice
The book’s diversity reflects LaLonde’s personal experience. He was raised by lesbian moms and is raising an adopted son with his partner of more than 15 years. LaLonde says it’s important to educate children that it’s OK to be different, whether that is race, sexual orientation or family structure.
“It’s really important for kids to have a voice and this is really what the book is about — kids with gay families having a voice, seeing themselves and being able to talk about it,” LaLonde said.
The wide range of colors, however, does not just teach acceptance: LaLonde hopes it also teaches kids to identify different shades of similar colors, such as mint, emerald or lime that could all fall under green.
“I wanted there to be a lot of colors so that (on) each page, readers could have a dialogue with their child about what color is this, what color is that?” said LaLonde who graduated from University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design.
Chris Singer, a book reviewer on BookDads.com, praises the book as a “fantastic introductory book for toddler, preschoolers and beginning readers about differences and diverse families.”
Singer also writes that the book not only offers many lessons for children but also invites children to show off and be proud of their own families.
For LaLonde, the book also allowed him to showcase his love for art, teaching, and of course, his family.
“This is a perfect melding of what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an artist and an educator and this book does both.”
For upcoming author readings or events, visit the Facebook page for Families Comes in Many Different Shapes, Sizes and Color.
LaLonde is also a Local Voice contributor for Patch. .