Siblings Being Siblings

June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

It wasn’t until I had more than one child of my own that I began experiencing what I’d so often heard other parents remark upon: that children raised in the same family, under seemingly identical conditions, can have completely different personalities. These differences in personality—and the interesting dynamic they create in the relationship between the siblings themselves—is beautifully captured in The Puddle Pail (Ages 3-6). This book was published in the late 90s by the supremely talented and often-overlooked author-artist Elisa Kleven (who also wrote my favorite picture book of all time: The Lion and the Little Red Bird). Far too few children’s books showcase the natural, everyday interactions between siblings—or, more poignantly, the surprising discoveries that can emerge even amidst the competitive banter and indignant bossiness. The Puddle Pail stars two young crocodile brothers who set off for the beach, armed with empty pails. Sol, the older brother, might as well be my almost five-year-old son, JP. Both are realists and see the world in precise, everything-in-its-place terms. When it comes to filling his pail, Sol (a.k.a. JP) can’t pass up a shell or a feather or a rock without dropping it into his pail for one of his “collections” (currently in our house the window ledges are piled high with JP’s rocks, which seem less like a discriminating collection of stones and more like a dumping ground for any grey rock he steps over on the street). On the other hand, my daughter, while not quite two, already exhibits an entirely different personality: she is my free spirit, my no-one-can-tell-me-what-to-do child; and this makes her much like Sol’s younger brother, Ernst. There’s no question that JP can identify with the way in which Sol tries to instruct (read: boss) Ernst according to his own preferences. But while Sol tries to nudge Ernst with various ideas about what he could collect (“Look at that sparkly bottle cap, Ernst. You could start a bottle cap collection!”), Ernst sees something entirely different (“It’s pretty…but I like the puddle it’s in even more…it looks like a little piece of sky on the ground. I wish I could collect it.”). As an outraged Sol looks on (in typical big brother stance: hands on hip, patronizing shake of the head), Ernst scoops up every puddle he sees. And with Kleven’s stunning illustrations, combining watercolor strokes with intricate paper collage, it’s not hard to see why: each puddle shimmers with the different rainbow-colored scenes it reflects, be it cherry blossoms hanging off a branch or the sweets from a bakery’s window. When Sol points out that Ernst’s puddles have all run together into a “pail of ordinary water,” Ernst is not deterred. As soon as the boys are back home, Ernst uses the water in his pail to bring all the puddle-pictures back to life in a series of watercolor paintings. And this suits Sol just fine, who gushes admiringly at Ernst, “Oooh! A painting collection! With clouds and stars and everything!” At the end of the day, having a sibling (or friend) that’s different from us makes life a lot more fun.

Other Favorites That Showcase Sibling Rapport:
Big Sister, Little Sister, by LeUyen Pham (Ages 2-5)
Adele and Simon and Adele and Simon in America, by Barbara McClintock (Ages 3-6)
The Stella & Sam books, by Marie-Louise Gay (Ages 3-6)
Big Red Lollipop, by Rukhsana Khan & Sophie Blackall (Ages 4-8)
Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same, by Grace Lin (Ages 4-8)
The All of a Kind Family series, by Sydney Taylor (Ages 6-12)

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