Picture Book Snob
All you need is love... and dogs... and dresses with pockets!
Our Big Day by Bob Johnston and Michael Emberley, O'Brien Press
What's it about? Uncle David and Simon are getting married and the narrator, their young niece, is helping with all the preparations. The narrator has a very important role; she is going to be a ring bearer along with David and Simon's enormous and extremely lovable dog. But on the morning of the big occasion, the ring box is nowhere to be found! Will the wedding go ahead? Who can save the day? What can we learn? It doesn't matter who you marry as long as they're the person you love the most. Dogs truly are man's best friend and the best dresses always come with pockets!
What makes this stand out? I think this might be the first Irish-published picture book with an LGBTQ theme but do correct me if I'm wrong about this. David and Simon's wedding is just the setting for the story and not made an 'issue' of in any way. It's a delightful tale about an exciting time to which all children will relate and it features a gigantic and incredibly endearing canine, the aptly-named Bear.
About the illustrations... loose lines of Michael Emberley's affectionate illustrations give the story a lively energy that flows through the whole book. The exuberant Bear is particularly well-executed and practically bounds off the page and into readers' hearts.
Why we love it... The story's gentle language and exploration of everyday life are reminiscent of Shirley Hughes. It's fantastic how it encourages little readers to be who they like and love who they want - a message that was sorely lacking not only in children's literature but in society as a whole when I was growing up. It's diverse and inclusive with different ethnicities represented as well as the LGBTQ community. Bear is an excellent character who is certain to win the hearts of all readers, even 'cat people' like ourselves. While we have many books that feature same-sex couples, they tend to be secondary characters and I love how this puts a gay marriage at its centre. As a cis straight person, I'm not always sensitive to how heteronormative society is or how much the media reinforces this. I was surprised at just how much of this young people can absorb unconsciously and was amazed at my almost-five-year-old's initial reaction when this book arrived.
My children have seen same-sex couples in other picture books - albeit in the background - and while we do have gay friends and family members, we don't see them often. Still, I assumed they wouldn't think anything of a story about a male couple's marriage. The seven-year-old, who loves everything to do with weddings, was enthusiastic from the start. But when the youngest first saw this book, her genuinely baffled response was, 'Two men can't get married!' and she initially refused to read it. Once we sat down with it, however, she was utterly charmed by the story. It was brilliant how this gave us all an opportunity to discuss LGBTQ issues which I thought we had done before but clearly had not done adequately.
Why you need it...
It's vital that all children are aware from a young age that there is no uniform way to be or to love. How else can they grow into teens and adults who either feel accepted or are tolerant of others? It's also essential for children of same-sex couples to see their own families reflected in the books they're reading. It's wonderful to have children's books that help normalise and make the LGBTQ community visible and Our Big Day introduces an important subject in a subtle and thoroughly entertaining way. I'd love to see more books about David and Simon and characters like them, and of course, the further adventures of Bear!
About the author:
Bob Johnston is the owner of The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin, Ireland. He lives in a small cottage by the sea with his husband Leon, a big black dog called Sasha and a cat called Molly. Originally from England, he moved to Ireland in 2000, actively campaigned in the Irish Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015 and married his husband in 2016.
About the illustrator: Originally from Boston, Michael Emberley has lived in Ireland for 15 years. After writing and illustrating in the US for over 40 years, this is his debut Irish children’s book. Recent titles include The Message: The Extraordinary Journey of an Ordinary Text Message, I Did It! and I Can Make a Train Noise with Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. He lives in an old stone horse stable in County Meath.
Our Big Day was published by O'Brien Press in April 2022 - see this book on the publisher's website Thanks to the lovely people in O'Brien Press for sharing this book with us - all opinions expressed are our own.