The Lotterys Plus One is one of the most delightful books I’ve encountered in quite some time. Within a few pages I was openly grinning and giggling out loud. Aimed at 8-12 year-olds, I have to say I can think of some adults who could benefit from reading it as well.
This is the story of a big messy, modern day, multi-cultural, multi-everything family. The base of the family began with two gay couples, a man from Yukon and one from Dehli plus a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. They all became best friends and decided to have a baby together. While in labor, one of the moms finds a winning lottery ticket, which allows them to buy a big house (later dubbed Camelottery!) and fill it with six more kids and five pets.
The characters are further brought to life with vibrant illustrations that have the feeling of modern folk art.
The book focuses on nine-year-old Sumac Lottery, who prides herself on being the most level-headed member of the clan. That is, until her idyllic world is invaded by an unfamiliar, aging grandparent suffering from dementia. He is the father of one of the Lottery dads, long estranged due to the older man’s intolerance of his son’s identity. As the story unfolds, Sumac and the rest of the family learn that sometimes the people who seem the most contrary and sometimes downright mean, are the ones who require love the most.
I’ve often heard the argument from anti-LGBTQ proponents that children shouldn’t be raised by gay or transgender parents because it will be too confusing for them to understand. I’ve always thought this was silly at best. Kids are not born with prejudice, they have to be taught. If they are never told that being gay is wrong, they will never develop bigoted views or suffer any confusion. Yes, they’ll notice the differences in other families, but having two mommies or two daddies becomes just another fact, like having an older brother or a three-legged dog.
Donoghue makes it seem effortless, incorporating the personalities and quirks of eleven people, celebrating their individuality while delving into what it means to be family. She handles some pretty weighty topics without ever insulting the intelligence of young readers.
I love the way she highlights the secret language of families, the little words and phrases that once mispronounced or heard incorrectly, stick to us and become loving in-jokes over time. My own family does this, for instance my niece fully believed that deviled eggs were called doubled eggs- which, if you think about it, is kind of genius. The author has an attentive ear to the brilliant way kids interpret the world.
And the Lotterys embrace these viewpoints, folding them into the familial lore seamlessly and with sweet humor. Everyone is allowed space to grow in any direction they choose, as long as each of them both learn and help in some way every day.
In my ideal world, this is how all families- and society itself- would operate. I wanted to crawl inside this family and have them adopt me. I can’t help hoping for a series here, because I was sad for the book to end. I know if I’d owned this as a kid, I would have read it again and again until the pages were grimy and the cover had to be taped back in place.
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, Illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono will be available on March 28 from Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.