Thursday 2 May 2024

We Are Family: Six Kids and a Super-Dad - a poetry adventure by Oliver Sykes (sent for review)

We Are Family: Six Kids And A Super Dad is a poetry adventure written by Oliver Sykes. Intended for independent readers aged around 7 - 99 or over, the anthology introduces us to Oliver, his 5 siblings and his Super Dad. It gives us an insight into how a big family can work really well as a team, sharing chores and responsibilities, and being there to annoy and frustrate, support and love each other. 

We are family by oliver sykes book cover showing kids on a bunk bed being held aloft by a flying Dad

Author Oliver Sykes grew up not far from where I grew up, and was one of 6 children. When he was aged 8 his Mum left the household by choice and never returned. In We Are Family we get a glimpse into that time, and just how hard it was for his Dad to ensure his family survived and thrived.

The poems are well written and varied in length, style and tempo. They convey their messages and the emotions around them well, and with a large degree of humour. You move pretty effortlessly from hectic to calm, lightweight to stern, learning more about the family as you go, and laughing aloud at times. 

My partner and I had 7 children between us, so a lot of the aspects about larger families resonate very well with me. Mass brawls and complaints over who has the last portion of cereal, who misses out on a doughnut and who is keeping everyone else awake were all commonplace in our house. There are also the proud moments that make it all worthwhile, when you realise one of the children has been keeping an eye out for another, and quietly fixed something or given them some support that they needed.

We Are Family by Oliver Sykes inside cover with drawing of large family as if ready to get into position for a photo

As you move through the book you go from more lightweight to deeper poems. The author talks about needing time alone with his Dad, or time alone by himself. He gives us an idea of just how financially poor they were, but often well fed with poached rabbit stew (the 'go out and shoot it' type of poaching, as opposed to boiling it in water). A couple of the poems hit quite hard. We see a small boy delighted to be given a huge plate of food just for himself for his first free school meal, and we hear some thoughts about his Mum, who he didn't really miss, because she wasn't there to miss. 

The last section, Real Life Lessons, is in parts raw, but full of positivity and hope. His Dad did all that he could, and it was enough. It may have been hard, but it was worth it. They may not have had money, but they were exceedingly rich. 

Oliver Sykes childrens poetry book review part of poem about his Mum leaving

We Are Family: Six Kids and a Super Dad is a very easy read, and an 8 year old would get a lot from it, but so can a 50 year old. It's a great book for young people who are learning that we all have a different upbringing, and we all have different experiences. They make us who we are, and we are far more than what you see from outside. This is a large single parent family from the traveller community. They probably faced horrendous prejudice for everything from their family background and being poor, through to having a lot of siblings and not having a Mum. Look again properly and you see a family overcoming a loss, working together to survive, and showing gratitude to everyone who took time to get to know them, and to help them. You see a very capable Super Dad, and his thriving family. 

The book is beautifully illustrated by Ian Morris from Manchester School of Art. Each poem has at least 1 accompanying image, and they capture the world with so many children very well. There is plenty to see in each drawing, which don't just depict the story being told, they very cleverly convey the emotions too. Having a house full of children can be loud and manic, crazy, topsy turvy. It can mean a room full of laughter or just as easily fear. It can seem overwhelming, or as if you have more support than you could ever need. We can read and see that on every page. 

It's a great book. The poems make you feel as if you have a real understanding of the author, his siblings and his Dad, and you are left hoping that they all did as well as Oliver Sykes has, and that they all remember their childhood as fondly, despite the struggles and the missing piece. I hope that my children always have fond memories of their childhood, despite our struggles and our own missing piece. 

We Are Family is published by Otter-Barry Books. Written by Oliver Sykes and illustrated by Ian Morris, it will entertain you, it will give you some insight into big families, and it will make you appreciate what you have just a little bit more. 112 pages, suitable for readers of any age, and available from 9th May 2024 in Paperback (rrp £8.99). Here's an Amazon affiliate link where it is available to order/pre-order at the time of typing for the reduced price of £8.27. 

I was sent We Are Family to review. Amazon links are affiliate, which earns me a few pence if you order through my link, but it'll never cost you any extra. I don't charge any fee for book reviews, so it helps keep the website running. 

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