The Murrays – A Wrinkle in Time – by Madelene L’Engle.
Despite Mr. Murray’s disappearance into space for years on end, a mother who can’t cook dinners (except over a bunsen burner) and terrible grades in math Meg Murry somehow manages to save the whole world AND pull her whole family back together across both time and space. What really draws me to the family is that they are a fairly strange lot, and they acknowledge it and even seem okay with it. Sure, it would be nice if Meg wasn’t so terrible at geography or making friends, but everyone else in the family loves and accepts her the way she is. They even point out and champion the things she is great at.
The March Family – Little Women – by Louisa May Alcott.
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March. Each girl had her own personality, and though, let’s face it, pretty much everyone identified with Jo, the writer, we loved the rest too. Talk about a group of close-knit siblings, in my mind, one of the most attractive aspects of this book. They were always making pacts, putting on plays, starting clubs, and creating crafts. (If anyone asks you what kids did before cellphone and computers, I suppose this is as good a book as any to give an idea.) And at the end of the day, there was always a moral to be learned.
The Gilbreths – Cheaper by the Dozen – Written by Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth
Technically, the Gilbreth family – written about by two of the children actually existed, so they are not truly “fictional.” (Fun fact, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (my hero!), the parents of the family, are famous in the field of industrial and management psychology (which is what I’m getting my MA in) and some of the earliest researchers and founders.) They’re famous for attempts to mechanize motions and create efficient routines – which, makes a lot of sense if you also happen to have 12 children at home. I guess you could say they’re work and home built on the same material. As a family, it seems like a rollicking good time to have a dad who is always trying out experiments on the family – like novel ways to teach German, Multiplication Tables, and Typing – and mother with unending patience. (This is on my top 10 of must read books. I read it every year I love it so much.)
Honorable Mention Families I would like to Join
- Any family created by “Frindle” author Andrew Clements
- The Caraway family – of Stargirl fame ( by author Jerry Spinelli)
- The Boxcar Children
- All of Kind Family – by Sidney Taylor
These were the families I really wanted to be a part of when I was in middle school. Now that I’ve made the jump to adult novels, I can say that there are fewer families I would like to join in the contemporary American (and British) novels, the vast majority of what I read.
As much as I immersed myself and absolutely love the writing style of: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, John Irving’s The World According to Garp, or Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex. I’m not sure I would want to become part of any of those families. (Not even for a day if the family is Garp’s). Barbara Kingsolver’s Bean Trees protagonist Alice Wexler is a wonderful heroine, but I am glad she’s not my mother. (I’d take her for a friend though.)
Here’s what I suspect – the more nuanced the novel, the better the read – but the harder it is to imagine trading in what you know already about your own family and their own livable foibles. As much as I love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’d never trade for Mrs Bennett as a mother (though Lizzy as a sister might be nice. Not so much Lydia and Catherine) though I’m sure I would have my own silly desires if I had a marriageable daughter on the line
Perhaps the real truth is, the families of children’s novels are idealized in some ways simply because of the audience, (The Weasleys in Harry Potter seem rather nice – though of course, the Malfoys are ghastly) – kids (usually) can’t leave their families. Once we become adults, we get to create our own “ideal” family, something better than reading about other people’s.
Agree? Disagree? What fictional families would you want to join?