The Relatives Came
by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came
Illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Children's book review by Suzanne Holland

Ages 4-8

This is not a book about the dreaded descent of holiday visitors, although I do tend to read it in my classroom around Thanksgiving. Rather, The Relatives Came is a loving evocation of family traditions, and of the joys and blessing of extended families.

Cynthia Rylant has a magical way with language. Her prose is simply stated but is oh so potent with images! I love this sentence:

“They left when their grapes were nearly purple enough to pick, but not quite.”

As a class, we discuss when that time would be and how we know that it is probably late summer. Another wonderful sentence:

“They had an old station wagon that smelled like a real car.”

Isn’t that great? It is no wonder that this book is a Caldecott winner!

The story travels along with the nameless relatives until they reach the expectant family.

What a joyous and exuberant greeting!! The cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents pass each other around in a circle of frenzied kisses and hugs.

The reader somehow feels included in this warmth; perhaps it's by design that the members of this family have no names. These people could be our families; these could be our hugs and kisses!

Stephen Gammell’s illustrations share this enthusiasm.

The drawings, soft focused but detailed, are a story unto themselves. Look at the hotdog falling to the floor, see the uncle perched on a stool, uh oh, the baby is knocking over that platter of chocolate chip cookies!

cartoon car on the road

A wealth of information is gleaned just by picture reading.

The story follows along with the sleeping arrangements (anyone who ever had to give up a bed for grandma will appreciate this!). As the reunion continues we watch the fun of picnics, music played, chores getting done, family photos.

I don’t think there is a single person who doesn’t have a smile on his face.

We know the inevitable is coming however, and soon the reunion has ended. Suitcases are packed, the old car is loaded and the relatives drive back through winding mountain roads.

For those left behind, they crawled into beds that now “felt too big and too quiet.”

For the rest of us, we know there is always the pleasure of rereading this wonderful book.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant is an ode to the bonds of families and the love that stretches through generations and time.

I cannot recommend this book enough!!!

Read more of Suzanne's book reviews.

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