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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

The Sibling Reality: When Picture Books Stop Being Nice and Start Getting Real

I love it when a blog title makes me sound old.

Now that my kids have reached the ripe ages of five and two, I’m finding myself more interested in picture books that pick apart the nature of sibling relationships in interesting ways .  I don’t mean fighting.  I mean that crazy pushmepullyou of loving each other to the extreme mixed with scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs annoyance.  With that in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with a variety of picture books that celebrate this tricky balance.  Books where it’s not all sweetness and light nor vinegar and . . . uh . . . darkness (note to self: work on metaphors before posting to readership).

Here’s just a quick smattering of some of my favorites at this precise moment in time.

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, ill. Sophie Blackall


I am now and forever Team BRL.  Back in the day when I reviewed it I mentioned that for me this is a book about grace.  Telling kids to forgive other kids is tricky, but telling them to forgive their little annoying siblings?  Add in the fact that this is one of the very rare picture books you’ll find about a American Muslim family that isn’t about their faith in some way and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst, ill. Dan Yaccarino


Speak truth to me, but softly.  Give me picture books about siblings, but get a little heart in there.  Now in some ways, I feel that Parkhurst’s book remains one of the funniest and most honest displays of sibling relationships I’ve ever seen.  That moment when the mom says, “Sweetie, she’s two. You don’t have to do what she says,” just squeaks with familiarity.  I am that mom.  I live that mom’s life.  Albeit with the genders of the kids switched.

A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban, ill. Lillian Hoban


I’m in that weird position as a librarian where I know all the “classic” children’s picture books and I know to read them to my kids, but I’m still shocked when I finally discover that some of them are more contemporary, funny, and honest than a lot of the stuff being published today.  Take Frances.  Now there’s a character I hope we never lose.  She has lots of great books but this may be my favorite.  Clearly Russell Hoban knew children, because that relationship between Frances and her sister has all the qualities of a real sisterhood.

Baby Says by John Steptoe


*checks watch*

Nope.  Still not back in print.  Still weird.  He just got a street named after him, guys.  The fact this isn’t even a board book is bizarre.  My son loves it, possibly because the baby gets to bean the brother upside the head with a teddy bear and all that brother does is sigh and get the kid out of his crib.  But that shot of the messy baby kiss on his brother’s nose . . . I’m not a sentimental soul in the least, but that gets me.

I’m open to any and all suggestions for more titles of this ilk, if you have them.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Thank you for mentioning Henry and Elliebellly! It is a terrific book that is my daughter’s favorite. We’ve even borrowed the phrase “work it out you two”

    Sadly, it might be going out of print, as Amazon has no new copies available 🙁

  2. I love Frances and my other favorite sibling picture book is The Pain and the Great One (but NOT the mediocre chapter book series) by Judy Blume. For chapter books, Ramona and Beezus are the way to go. I know a mom who didn’t like that Beezus admits that sometimes she doesn’t like – even doesn’t love – Ramona. That mom is living in a dream world and must not have siblings herself!

    • Agreed re Pain and the Great One; I still enjoy reading that to my students, and loved reading it to my daughters.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      There’s an old For Better or For Worse comic strip where the mom says at one point, “I love my son. I just don’t like him very much.” Along the same lines, certainly.

  3. A Pocket Full of Kisses by Audrey Penn comes to mind too, while the siblings are racoons, it still paints a picture of life for siblings; not always smooth sailing. It’s great for younger kids.


  5. Also, I just realized that Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly is by Carolyn Parkhurst, who was has also (mostly) written books for adults, although her most recent, Harmony, is narrated in part by a child and the sibling relationship in the book is key.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Yep. I’m a big fan of her DOGS OF BABEL. I wish she’d do a couple more picture books, particularly if they starred these two kids.

  6. Frances forever!!

  7. Stephanie S says

    Secret Tree Fort by Brianna Farley. New this year and it’s wonderful.