Welcome to the first RTÉjr Book Club of 2023 with thanks to our friends at Children's Books Ireland!
As we ease out of the sleepy comfort of Christmas and into the bright New Year, let’s take a look at some fantastic sibling stories. Siblings are often our first and most steadfast lifelong friends.
This month's RTÉjr Book Club article is written by Ruth Concannon. Ruth is a Book Doctor and book reviewer. You can follow Ruth's reading recommendations on Instagram here or keep in touch via her website Stuck for Books here. The Irish language recommendations are from Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh.
They can be both our greatest heroes and our worst enemies. They are our partners in crime and our allies against our parents. They are the ones rescuing us from trouble and the ones getting us into trouble in the first place! There is no bond in this world like it; siblings may keep us on our toes, but they certainly enrich our lives.
Let’s face it, siblings can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the mood, or indeed, the time of day. I am the proud middle sister of an older and a younger brother, both of whom bring equal amounts of joy and bafflement to my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. However, being a sibling can be hard work. But fear not dear reader, children’s books are skilled at capturing the entertaining dynamics between siblings. Allow me to outline my five top tips for living peacefully with siblings and some great books to guide you.
Perhaps these top tips and the selected books will warm your heart, remind you of the blessing of having siblings, or simply show you that things could always be a lot worse!
1. Stay open-minded
So you’ve found out you’re about to become a big sibling - now what?! Becoming a sibling for the very first time can be a huge change, but there are plenty of stories to help navigate the ups and downs of becoming an older sibling. Taking a humorous approach, Kate Beaton’s King Baby (3+) follows our hero as he grows from a baby to a Big Boy before having to share his power with a little sister. It can be hard to not compare yourself to the attention received by newborns. If readers are experiencing some sibling rivalry, Super Stan by Matt Robertson (4+) might work wonders.
In this story, big brother Jack is frustrated with constantly being outshined by his little brother Stan, who happens to be a superhero. But Jack soon learns that even superheroes need the help of their big brothers sometimes. Readers who, like me, might be guilty of middle-child syndrome, will love Bumpfizzle: The Best on Planet Earth by Patricia Forde and Elina Braslina (8+). Daniel has found an unusual way to cope with the new arrival of The Baby in his household; by pretending to be an alien! Leabhar beag deas a phléann go stuama le buairt an pháiste agus Mamaí ag iompar ná Macán agus an Leanbh Nua le Orianne Lallemand (2+). Agus in Frog Beag agus na Torbáin Sin! (2+) le Tatyana Feeney, tá ar dheartháir mór dul i dtaithí ar shiblíní beaga nach bhfuil in ann tada a dhéanamh ach aird a thuistí a tharraingt orthu féin – go dtí go n-athraíonn siad isteach ina bhfroganna beaga agus tosaíonn an spraoi i gceart.
2. All families start with love
Sometimes our siblings can come into our lives in unexpected ways, later in our lives, or may be part of our chosen family instead. The important thing to remember is that all families start with love, no matter how they come together. Blended families, foster families and adopted families appear in many stories that showcase different ways a sibling bond can develop. When You Joined Our Family by Harriet Evans and Nia Tudor (5+) is a warm-hearted picture book exploring adoption. With inclusive illustrations of children and families of all kinds, this story covers the anxieties of adoption and the joy of getting to know new family members.
Katya Balen’s The Light in Everything (10+) follows Zofia and Tom as they struggle to adjust to life as a blended family with a new baby on the way. Proud of Me by Sarah Hagger-Holt (11+) follows siblings Becky and Josh who live with their two Mums and sometimes find it tricky to explain their family to others. This is a story of siblings figuring out their identities and how best to make their Mums proud. Agus an bhfuil bealach ar bith níos aistí chun deartháir beag a fháil ná go dtiteann sé ón spéir anuas ort? In Míp agus Blípín le Máire Zepf (4+) tá ar róbó beag a héad a chur ar leataobh nuair a thuigeann sí a tábhacht féin don róbó bídeach nua atá leandáilte isteach léi ar Mhars.
3. Remain calm (if you can)
Of course, becoming a sibling is one thing but navigating relationships between older and younger siblings can be a bit of a hurdle for the whole family. Alphonse, That is Not Okay to Do by Daisy Hirst, (3+) looks at the many frustrations of being the older sibling. Nathalie must learn to be patient with her younger brother Alphonse and Alphonse must learn that it is never ok to eat someone’s favourite book! Nuts! By Lou Peacock and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail (3+) focuses on two squabbling squirrels as they gather nuts for the winter and can’t seem to get along.
This humorous story explores the tricky balance of learning to share with siblings. But what if your siblings are truly driving you crazy? Readers with very annoying siblings will love I Swapped My Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons and illustrated by Nathan Reed (8+). Sick of being picked on by his older brother Ted, Johnny attempts to find a less irritating brother through a zany and unpredictable sibling swap website. Uaireanta ní thuigeann gasúir bheaga – agus b’fhearr le Nína éalú isteach ina teach babóige le spraoi lena bábóga in Beag Bídeach le Sadhbh Devlin (3+) – ach níl siadsan beo beathach agus tá an spraoi leo teoranta, agus b’fhéidir nach bhfuil an babaí chomh leamh i bhfírinne!
4. Differences make us stronger
Sometimes our siblings might have different needs or experience the world differently to us. Exploring different perspectives through books can be helpful and can foster greater empathy and understanding for our siblings and their experiences. Me and My Sister by Rose Robbins (4+) shares the perspective of life with an autistic sibling. Perfect by Nicola Davies (5+) also tackles this subject, as a young boy’s excitement at the arrival of his new sibling is challenged when the new baby has some unexpected additional needs.
Both stories educate young readers on the difficulties and the positives of having a sibling that is different to you and remind us that these differences ultimately make us stronger. Readers young and old might also appreciate the fresh perspective of Juno Dawson in You Need to Chill! (4+) Faced with lots of questions about her 'brother Bill’, our heroine is unfazed and utterly supportive when it comes to her siblings' exploration of their gender identity.
5. Have fun
Regardless of all of this, there is no greater bond than that of siblings. So make sure you enjoy it! Celebrate your special relationship, create memories and see how many adventures you can go on with your brothers and sisters. There are many stories which celebrate the magic and fun of time spent with siblings. In B is for Baby by Atinuke and illustrated by Angela Brooksbank (3+), two siblings go on an unexpected adventure when big brother accidentally takes his new baby sister on a journey through their village when she stows away in a basket bound for their Grandfather Baba’s house. Twin Power: Throw In by Emma Larkin and illustrated by Lauren O’Neill (8+) is a great story of sibling support as Aoife and Aidan team up in a Gaelic Football final against their parish rivals to win the Star Schools Cup.
Finally, for a humorous take on sibling dynamics that will make you grateful for your own, The Very Dangerous Sisters of Indigo McCloud by John Hearne (9+) will keep readers laughing. When his formidable sisters are terrorising the town of Blunt, Indigo must be a reluctant hero and stand up to his evil genius sisters in this wacky and witty story. Bíonn sé deacair ar Rita fanacht socair nuair nach ndéanann a deartháir beag an rud atá sé ceaptha a dhéanamh, ach sa deireadh is mór an spórt é bheith ag spraoi le chéile – bainfidh tuistí agus páistí araon súp as an tsraith iontach seo, agus ach go háirithe as seiftiúlacht an dhearthár bhig in Rita agus an Lampa Draíochta le Máire Zepf (3+).
B is for Baby by Atinuke and illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, Walker Books, 32pp, ISBN
B is for ‘baby’, but B is also for a lot of other things that make up a day in Baby’s life! From Nigerian author Atinuke, the creator of the successful Anna Hibiscus series, comes this very sweet picturebook. Set in a village somewhere in Africa, Baby’s unexpected adventure starts when she discovers a basket full of bananas and climbs inside to help herself to some breakfast. But when big brother comes to take the basket away, he fails to notice the precious cargo inside and brings her with him to see Baba, their grandfather.
Cycling through the village, Baby peeks out as the world goes by, seeing birds, buses, baobab trees and baboons. What will Baba think when he discovers more than just bananas in his special delivery? The relationships between the children and their elders are beautifully presented, with tender images and warm facial expressions. A lovely heartwarming story, this book is suitable for very young readers and may be especially appropriate for those who have a little sibling on the loose!
Me and My Sister by Rose Robbins, Scallywag Press, 32pp, ISBN 9781912650002
‘Me And My Sister’ tells the story of two siblings that experience the world differently. It embraces the perspective of a young boy who gives us a little insight on what life is like with an autistic sibling. It shows the highs and lows, acknowledging that there can sometimes be difficult days while it also celebrates the strong bond that can be shared between siblings. It educates young readers on various emotions and reminds them that everyone is different. Robbins’ character illustrations are full of movement. They seem to have a hidden spring in their step! The line work is gentle and playful, which really captures the feelings in this story – feelings of empathy, love, understanding and the joys in this special kindred connection. ‘Me and my sister are very different, but we love each other just the same,’ concludes our narrator. This picturebook is both informative and moving. The story speaks to everyone.
Míp agus Blípín le Myra Zepf agus Paddy Donnelly, Futa Fata, 32 pp, ISBN 9781910945995
Beidh idir óg agus aosta faoi gheasa ag an scéal álainn seo faoi Mhíp agus Blípín. Ábhar iontais atá anseo do bhuachaillí agus do chailíní spáis. Beidh siad an-tógtha leis an dá róbat bheaga bhídeacha seo agus mar a chuirtear Blípín ‘chun siúil’ go dtí Mars. Chaith Míp bliain ina haonar ar Mhars agus seoltar Blípín chuici le haghaidh a breithlae.
Ar dtús, bíonn Míp beagáinín cúthaileach lena cara nua ach léirítear go héifeachtach an tábhacht a bhaineann le cineáltas, cairdeas agus comhluadar – fiú ar Mhars. Scéal atá lán le dóchas croí, agus a léiríonn an tábhacht a bhaineann le fáilte a chur roimh chairde nua – róbó, eachtrán, nó leanbh fiú! – i do shaol, cé go mbíonn sé deacair ar dtús.
Super Stan by Matt Robertson, Orchard Books, 32pp, ISBN 9781408337288
Everyone agrees; Stan is a real superhero. His feats of daring and strength entertain and astound everyone… everyone except his big brother Jack, that is. Whenever Jack does something good, Stan does something amazing. It can be discouraging. Stan even manages to ruin Jack’s birthday treat with his superhero tricks and grabs all the attention by racing the cheetahs and wrestling a lion. But in an unusual turn of events, Jack realises that even superheroes need some help from their big brother.
Tackling the issue of sibling rivalry, Matt Robertson illustrates how tricky it can be when you’re a big brother. Funny and heart-felt, Super Stan is the story of two brothers, the youngest of which just happens to be an attention-grabbing superhero, while the big brother is feeling left out, no matter what he does, until he is called to save the day in his own right. It is zany, madcap and filled with love and excitement. Fun for the entire family!
The Very Dangerous Sisters of Indigo McCloud by John Hearne, Little Island Books, 224pp, ISBN:
Writing a dystopian world that is laugh-out-loud funny is no mean feat, but to create such an environment for young readers is extraordinary. John Hearne manages this with deftness in The Very Dangerous Sisters of Indigo McCloud. Indigo finds himself the unwilling hero of the tale, battling against his formidably vindictive sisters as they terrorise the town of Blunt and monopolise income from door-to-door calendar sales. His quest to stop them from harming dissenters is dramatic, absurd, and absolutely compelling. Key to Hearne’s success is the elaborate world he constructs in the town of Blunt.
The author has allowed their imagination to run riot in building his world, replete with its own strange customs. This detailed rendering serves as an enriched backdrop to the plotline and will draw young readers in with its bizarre and hilarious atmosphere. The Very Dangerous Sisters of Indigo McCloud will come to young readers with freshness and wild humour, a story vivid in characterisation and a message of quiet courage in the face of bullying and belligerent people. Highly recommended.
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