Saturday, July 7, 2012

Relatives and Road-trips

The word “relatives” came up in a story during one of my speech sessions and I asked my students if they knew what it meant. They didn’t so we discussed aunts, uncles, brothers, cousins . . .

A student interrupted me, “Don’t talk about cousins – my cousin moved away.” She buried her face in her folded arms.

Another child jumped in and said, “My six chickens’ birthday is August 7 – all of them. I don’t know why.”

Now I’m not sure where this came from. It was stretching the topic of “relatives” and one of the things we work on in speech is staying on topic, but I couldn’t resist asking, “So did they all hatch on the same day?” and he said, “no – they hatcheded on different days in June. I don’t know why their birthday is August 7. Do you know when mine is?”

He was disappointed I didn’t because he didn’t know either. I assured him I’d find out before I saw him next and then tried to rein this conversation in and return to the subject of relatives.

I had the perfect book for the topic, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell. It doesn’t use the words “cousin,” “aunt,” or “uncle” but there are a multitude of them and they fill most pages so it was easy to introduce the vocabulary. This charming story tells of a rural family leaving their Virginia farm to visit relatives. 

The story begins,

“It was the summer of the year the relatives came. They came up from Virginia.”
     . . .
“They left at 4:00 in the morning when it was still dark, before even the birds were awake.”
They drove all day and into the night . . .”

When they arrived, “it was hugging time.”  And the hugs seemed to go on forever as the family passed each other around from one set of arms to the next. When bedtime came there weren’t enough to go around, so beds were shared and floor-space filled. Arms and legs draped neighboring bodies as they squeezed together to sleep.

The illustrations in this book are color pencil drawing with personality. They have warmth, humor, and joy – even the car looks exuberant about the trip.

I understand the feeling. I just returned from a fabulous road-trip to see my family and many of my students are doing the same. Some are traveling all the way to Mexico and others have relatives visiting them. I imagine we’ll have a wide variety of stories to share in the fall. And speaking of stories, if I ever find out why those chickens celebrate their birthday on August 7, I’ll let you know. (I’m hoping I’ll be invited to their birthday party.)


  1. I read this book to classrooms of children every year. I never get tired of it, and they always love it. The pictures illustrate the book perfectly, and the story is so clever and heartwarming.

  2. I couldn't agree more. Thank you for dropping by.