As a kid growing up in a globe-trotting, move-every-two-years kind of family, that word was like magic for me.

I might have spent the school year struggling to fit in as the new kid (and an awkward, nerdy new kid at that), but I always knew that if I could just hang on until Christmas or the Fourth of July, I would have Missouri coming my way. I may not always have had many friends, but in Missouri, I knew I would find not one or two, but twenty first cousins on my mother’s side alone, all of whom seemed to like me in spite of my pigtails, pimples, and hand-me-down clothes.

Missouri, you see, was where the family reunions happened.

Grandpa’s home-grown watermelon. Grandma’s cornbread. Weiner roasts. Water fights. Starlit games of Red Rover and Ghost in the Graveyard. Singing . . . playing . . . eating . . . talking . . . laughing . . .

Paradise happened in Missouri.

One Big FamilyThis is why I love One Big Family. In simple, joyful words and phrases, author Marc Harshman has managed to capture the magic of my Missouri memories in a picture book.

When the crickets sing
and the end of summer is near,
Grandma and Grandpa say

In the book, a carload of parents and children join grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for a magical reunion, with swimming, camping, fishing, storytelling, and more. Harshman’s text and Sara Palacios’s buoyant illustrations tell a story full of fun, warmth — and lots and lots of love.

My favorite moment comes near the middle of the book, when all the cousins are spread out among piles of blankets and pillows on the floor, trying to sleep (but not trying very hard).

Interior illustration by Sara Palacios for One Big Family.

When the lights are all out
and sister starts giggling,
someone says

And suddenly, there I am, back on the big living room floor at Grandma’s, with four of her homemade quilts underneath me and one on top, siblings and cousins sprawled all around me. The lights are out, and nobody’s sleeping. We know that if the noise level gets high enough to wake up Grandma, the fun will all be over, but still the giggling and whispering get louder and louder, and then . . .

And then the memory fades.

The warm feeling inside me doesn’t, though. It never will.

When it is weeks or months
or years later,
and we are all together again,
one big family,
we look at that picture,
and no one has to say
We just do.

It’s been years since my cousins and I were all together. Grandma and Grandpa have both passed on. I haven’t had a proper wedge of cornbread in ages.

But the love and the fun of Missouri stay with me still. They sustain me — often in ways that I’m barely aware of.

My kids know a little about Missouri. They’ve been there. They love it, too. But they have their own word for paradise: Oregon.

Oregon — where grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all gather each summer for grill-offs and bocce ball, horseshoes and hot tubbing.

Oregon — where they get to experience firsthand the joy of being part of one big family.


Rachel* * *

About Rachel in Review:

Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.