Sibling Play

April 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

One Busy Day by Lola M. Schaefer & Jessica MeserveI’ll never forget the first time it happened. JP was four, Emily was a little over one, and I realized that 45 minutes had passed and there were still only happy voices in the other room. I called a friend: “The kids are playing together! ON THEIR OWN! For like a really long time! I’m just sitting here reading a book!” (Well, technically I was talking on the phone, but the point is that I could have been reading a book.) And that’s when it hit me: this is why some people have more than one kid (or more than one dog, cat, or fish).

Watching siblings play together is one of the most endearing and gratifying experiences for a parent. (Well, until it all goes south—which it inevitably does—usually right at the moment when you have finished the dishes, wiped down the lunch table, dust-bustered the floor, and finally sat down on the sofa to page through a magazine.) But when the stars do align, as they increasingly do with age, it is in these moments that I get the clearest glimpses of my children’s budding personalities, of the people they will someday become. I see tenderness and compromise in my now six and a half year old boy, amidst the bossiness and tendency to escalate play into some form of physical combat. And in my now three and a half year old daughter, I feel her excitement, her sheer pride, in the way she confidently prattles on after her brother agrees, “OK, you can be the mommy bird, and I’ll be the baby bird.” Because, really, is it not the best feeling in the world when that older brother whom you revere in every way decides to drop everything for you?

Imagination is the great equalizer in sibling play. In the world of pretend play, it doesn’t matter how old you are. Enter Lola M. Schaefer and Jessica Meserve’s latest picture book, One Busy Day: A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters (Ages 2-6), in some ways a sequel to their first book, One Special Day, about the moment in which a little boy becomes a big brother. Years later, in One Busy Day, we see the relationship from the perspective of the little sister, who fights for her big brother’s attention at every opportunity: “Mia wanted to do something—ANYTHING—with her big brother, Spencer.” It’s a tried and true technique that all parents of multiples will recognize. First, she stalks him while he’s climbing a tree and trails him in her tricycle while he’s kicking a soccer ball. Then she loses herself in her own independent play—painting a picture, twirling like a ballerina—until she starts to pique his interest. And then, the spark is lit: Mia and Spencer grabbed their swords and rain outside. Side by side, they battled…raging, roaring creatures under a full moon until the castle was safe.

It was my daughter, not me, that first discovered this book. We were at the bookstore, and I was giving her a choice between two picture books. “I like these, but there’s another one that I saw over there, Mommy,” and she led me straight to One Busy Day. (Children sometimes have an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what they need—even if most of the time their self-knowledge is so off the mark (“I’m not tired!”) that we miss these rare but insightful moments.) I had only to leaf through a few pages to recognize that this book is my daughter’s life. In fact, the imaginative scenarios depicted in these pages are so exactly like the ones that she and her brother enact—from the blanket forts all the way through to the final page, when brother and sister are curled up in an arm chair together—that it strikes me that this cannot be pure coincidence. These are universal truths. The false starts, the negotiation, that moment of connection, and the freedom and joy that follow. This is the magic of sibling play.

Proud parent moment: brother and sister chase each other through the yard, totally immersed in their own private world. Meserve's beautiful illustrations perfectly capture the timelessness of childhood (are you surprised to learn another of my favorites is British?).

Proud parent moment: brother and sister chase each other through the yard, totally immersed in their own private world. Meserve’s beautiful illustrations perfectly capture the timelessness of childhood (are you surprised to learn another of my favorites is British?).


Other Favorites About Siblings Playing Together:
Maple, by Lori Nichols (Ages 2-5; incidentally, I ADORE this other new picture book about sibling relationships, this one focused on a little girl before and right after her little sister is born.)
The Puddle Pail, by Elisa Kleven (Ages 3-6; see my post on this here)
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 early reader series by Grace Lin (Ages 4-8)
The All of a Kind Family chapter book series, by Sydney Taylor (Ages 6-12)
The Penderwicks series, by Jeanne Birdsall (Ages 8-12)

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