My 6-year-old, H, frequently complains that her younger sister, M, is "bothering" her, while her sister does absolutely nothing. In fact, it is M's very existence which bothers H. She's going through a phase (a long one, I suspect!) where she wants privacy and time alone, whereas her sister wants to be with her all the time. On the other hand, last week I took H alone to a gym/playspace that I usually take the girls to together (M was sick). Afterwards, I asked her whether she preferred going alone or with her sister. "With M!," came the immediate reply.
Judy Blume really gets both sides of this. And in The Pain and the Great One, she shows both sides - literally. This 1974 picture book is really two books - one read from the front and told from older sister Abigail Porter's (the "Great One" as her little brother not-so-affectionately calls her) perspective and one flipped over and read from the other front, from little brother Jake's (the Pain's) point of view. At the crux of all sibling relationships is, of course, competition for parental attention and love and each book ends with the words "I think they love him/her more than me." But just as with my two, when the kids get what they thought they wanted - Jake to build with blocks alone, Abigail to stay up late without her brother - they are lonely and bored. And I love the tag line: "Little brothers are never wrong!/Big sisters are always right!"
Many years after writing the picture book The Pain and the Great One, Judy Blume began a chapter book series featuring the same characters. The chapter books stay true to the theme of sibling rivalry and love. While these two may not always get along, they always stand up for each other. The fact that the picture book exists is a nice way to segue a child into early chapter books (although these would have to be read to a beginning reader). Of course, Blume's Fudge books, which I read as a child but have not (yet) revisited, are also great books about siblings.
In Mimmy and Sophie, the two eponymous sisters find adventure and joy in everyday life growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn, just as the author did. In my favorite, Mimmy, the older, gives voice to my older daughter's exact feelings when she yells at her younger sister "[W]hy do you always have to be where I am? Can't you go somewhere else?" To which her not-quite-5-year-old sister replies, quite logically, "Where?" At the end, in response to Sophie asking "Am I still your sister?" Mimmy draws a picture of them with their arms around each other, in chalk, on the sidewalk. It looks remarkably like the drawing H did of herself and her sister the other day. As with The Pain and the Great One, Cohen followed the initial picture book with a chapter book, Mimmy and Sophie All Around the Town. Thanks to Storied Cities for the recommendation!
I love the way Shirley Hughes does siblings, too. From her Alfie books (particularly Annie Rose Is My Little Sister) to Dogger (our favorite!), siblings annoy each other, play with each other, protect each other, help each other, and comfort each other. Hughes's illustrations are pitch-perfect, from the loving mom who looks like someone you could meet, to the messy toddler.
In Charlotte Zolotow's Big Sister and Little Sister, the ability of the girls to comfort each other is the focal point of the story. Irritated by Big Sister's bossiness, Little Sister runs away. In a nice role reversal, Little Sister ends up comforting Big Sister as Big Sister sobs when she can't find her younger sibling. The book closes with a lovely thought: "And from that day on little sister and big sister both took care of each other because little sister had learned from big sister and now they both knew how." I love the illustrations in this one, too!
The Frances books almost go without saying on any list of great sibling books. In A Baby Sister for Frances, the Hobans perfectly capture Frances's jealousy and resentment "Things are not very good around here anymore," she says after Mother does not have time to iron her favorite dress or buy her favorite oatmeal topping. (Books about the arrival of a new baby are admittedly a whole separate genre, but here the series continues as the girls grow, so I figured it was fair game.) In later books, they again sum up the essence of having and being a sibling. My favorite is in A Birthday for Frances when Frances, in an attempt at generosity, buys little sister Gloria a birthday present (gumballs and a candy bar) but ends up eating most of it herself!
These books are all great on the theme of sibling relationships but they are also just all great books, period that the kids and I all love. Of course, there are tons of books about siblings. What are your favorites?