Tuesday, August 30, 2011
“Cute” is probably the last word that comes to mind when we contemplate sibling rivalry, followed closely by “endearing,” “charming” and “sweet.” But those are just the words to describe two new picture books about warring siblings aimed at the youngest readers and rivals.
“Mine!,” written by Shutta Crum, a librarian and children’s book author (“Thomas and the Dragon Queen”), and illustrated by Patrice Barton (“Sweet Moon Baby”), is a delightful example of the drama and emotion that a nearly wordless book can convey.
Two adults, depicted legs-down from a child’s perspective, deposit a toddler and a baby next to a pile of toys. It’s not clear whether the children are siblings or unwilling playmates. No matter: the conflict rings true either way. And when an equally tenacious dog gets involved, what begins as a battle over treasured playthings turns into a giggly, water-soaked game.
The author, wisely, withholds comment. The only words that appear alongside the exuberant pencil drawings are “mine” and “woof.” But the laughter of young readers will doubtlessly round out the narrative. A spread showing the dog furiously mouthing a sodden toy while the baby explodes in glee is especially scrumptious.
Of course, as children get older, their battles become more complex. Few authors or illustrators get inside the minds of young children as convincingly and compassionately as Hyewon Yum, who was born in South Korea and now lives in Brooklyn. Her two previous picture books, “There Are No Scary Wolves” and “Last Night,” subtly captured the ways in which anger, resentment and fear color child-parent relations. In her new book, “The Twins’ Blanket,” Yum explores the tension between peers — in this instance, identical twin girls who fight over a shared blanket but at the same time fear separation.
For grown-up readers there’s another argument: Which is more wonderful — the text, written exactly in the voice of its 5-year-old heroines (“I think I should have this blanket. Because I’m the big sister, and I can’t sleep without it.” “No, I think I should have it. Because … well … I can’t sleep without it either. And you’re only three minutes older than me!”), or the exquisite illustrations of rosy-cheeked girls, a brightly colored blanket, Asian textiles and lots of white space to accentuate them.
Both books have warmly appealing endings. If only sibling spats always resolved themselves this way.