The source of so much angst and so much delight. So much has been written about siblings, probably because children under 11 spend more time with their siblings than with anyone else. Research has been done into how one’s placement in a family affects health, opportunities, intelligence – of course being the youngest I’m sure that makes me the best (sibling are you reading this?). What’s for sure though, is that having a sibling affects you in some way, so it’s best to have a picture book on hand to help navigate children through the chopping waters of sibling rivalry.
Alphonse, That is Not Ok to Do by Daisy Hirst (creator of the much acclaimed The Girl with the Parrot on her Head) was published this month, and has a stand-out brightly coloured cover. The siblings in question are friendly endearing monsters (in look, not necessarily behaviour). Natalie starts out alone – as all older siblings do, revelling in the undivided attention she receives from her parents (represented by two hands she is holding), but then inevitably along comes a sibling (in this case, Alphonse – a blue monster in a buggy, looking already incredibly cheeky). The reader will expect Natalie to feel glum about this – indeed she is pictured as such, but actually the text reveals that most of the time she doesn’t mind.
Then of course, Alphonse does things that are “Not OK to Do” to Natalie’s things, and Alphonse isn’t so welcome.
The ending is uplifting – showing Natalie’s care and protection for her little sibling, and good emotional understanding of his level of ability, and what they can do together. It’s a clever illustration of how siblings are with each other, and the emotions they feel.
What’s more the book is delightfully coloured mainly in the three primary colours, with fairly childish warm-looking illustrations (although sophisticatedly implying much more than the text), which makes the book very child-friendly. Purchase it here.
Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah Ohora was also published very recently, but unlike the universal feel of the monsters in Alphonse, this is a truly American tale. And certainly quirky. The cute Bunny family return to their New York home to discover a bundle left outside their door. The parents fall in love with the baby ‘Wolfie’, but older child Dot is terrified that “He’s going to eat us all up”. The reader immediately empathises with Dot, and realises that yes, wolves do tend to eat rabbits.
Dot isn’t convinced even when Wolfie starts to venerate Dot, by following and dribbling on her, and she remains frustrated that her parents don’t listen despite his growing size. When Dot and Wolfie bump into an even larger predator at the co-op, things take a surprising turn, and Dot learns to accept her ‘little’ brother.
With thick acrylics in muted pinks, mustards and greens, this is a very different book visually. It feels retro – the featured cameras certainly look so, although this is hipster New York where vintage is all the rage – and the clothes of the characters also old-school, and yet it feels modern in tone.
It answers all the emotions on new siblings – their ability to change the family dynamic, the animalistic tendencies of drooling babies, the attention lavished upon them by the parents – and yet remains distinctive and leftfield. You can buy it here.
If you’re looking for something far more traditional in tone and illustration, then Aren’t You Lucky! by Catherine and Laurence Anholt, well-trusted authors on families, will do the trick. This has a beautiful colour palate with incredibly detailed pictures of family life, which really give the reader the opportunity to linger. There is initially “just Mummy and Daddy and me”, me being a female pre-schooler.
The time of pregnancy is documented over double pages in small illustrations of each month – so that children can track the changes in weather and settings through the seasons. This is a portrayal of a happy family and a happy childhood. When baby brother comes along, the child is told “Aren’t you lucky!” but she is not so sure.
As in the books above, the emotions are set out – the pre-schooler feels neglected for attention, wants to be the baby again, and doesn’t understand the simplicity of a baby’s needs and desires.
There’s a simplistic but beautiful twist to the text of “Aren’t you lucky!” at the end, as the pre-schooler accepts her baby brother, particularly as he grows. For me, the familiarity and reassurance of the illustrations wins the day. Re-published recently with updated cover. You can purchase it here.
We Just Had a Baby by Stephen Krensky, illustrations by Amelie Graux wins in the humour awards. It portrays the older sibling (this time a boy) as frustrated and irritated by the new arrival – by how long she has taken to arrive, by her size, by the attention she gets (notice a familiar theme!).
But the faces in this book are exquisite – the expressions the mother’s friends pull when they look at the baby – the baby’s stare at her toy…and the little boy’s face as he practises both smiling and frowning at the baby and the responses they elicit.
The text too pulls in humour:
“We both have ten fingers and ten toes. I counted to make sure.
Mine are bigger.”
Understated jealousy, and incredulity that the baby is getting more attention, when she’s obviously not as good. But of course, as always, this big brother comes round to accept that this little sister will probably make a good playmate:
“I have BIG plans for us!”
It’s cute, and quite adorable, and would be on my list if I were doing the baby thing all over again. If you are, pre-order it here. This baby will be born very soon!