Super Siblings

This week’s installment from Susan is all about siblings – enjoy!

I’m an only child, so the whole brothers-and-sisters thing has always been a mystery to me. But now that I have two children, I’ve gotten a crash course in what it means to be a sibling. From hitting to hugging, every day is a tsunami of emotion.

To me, few author/illustrators have captured the ups and downs of sibling-hood as well as Mercer Mayer. Mayer is most well-known for his “Little Critter” series, which began in 1975 and now spans over two hundred books. Little Critter is a round little animal with spiky fur that needs a good combing, just like my own kids’ hair. He could be a hamster, he could be a guinea pig, who knows? Even Mayer won’t say.

Mayer doesn’t see the sibling relationship through rose-colored glasses. He knows that kids fight, resent each other, and sometimes want nothing more than to just get away. He even recognizes that kids may say one thing and do another. The disconnect between the words on Mayer’s pages and his illustrations can be hilarious. Little Critter announces, confidently, that he’ll share with his brother, but the picture shows them tussling over a baseball bat at Christmas. And although Little Critter claims he won’t mind if his brother finds all the Easter eggs, his frown says otherwise.

At the end of his books, however, Mayer shows that even children recognize the power of the sibling bond.

The New Baby, by Mercer Mayer. When Little Critter learns he’s going to have a new sister, he gets out all his toys to share. But the baby isn’t interested in books or jokes. Plus, she smells funny and cries a lot. Luckily, Little Critter’s mom shows him all the things he CAN do with a new baby, like cuddling and tickling. Humor might help reconcile an older sibling to a new arrival, such as watching Little Critter holding his nose as his sister waves and smiles on her way to the changing table.

Just Me and My Little Brother, by Mercer Mayer. Little Critter describes all the things he and his little brother will do together, from riding bikes to watching scary movies. But on the last page, Little Critter points to his brother – still a baby – and admits he may have to wait a little while for their adventures. The book is a good way to help older kids envision a fun future with a baby who may not seem so exciting in the present.

Me Too!, by Mercer Mayer. Little Critter is frustrated because he always has to include his little sister. Her constant cries of “Me too!” mean that Little Critter loses his paper airplane, carries her the whole time on a hike, and gives up half his cake. But just when he becomes overwhelmed, his sister gets a candy cane, and Little Critter discovers that “Me too!” means sharing can work both ways.

The Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald, illustrated by Mercer Mayer. I’ve been rereading this series ever since second grade. Set in Utah at the end of the 19th century, the books follow the adventures of two children, John and his older brother Tom. Tom, “The Great Brain,” is a swindler extraordinaire. He steals money from everyone in town, even John, via elaborate and entertaining schemes. But John also sees that Tom can still be a good person and loving brother. Mercer’s illustrations bring the life of children during that era beautifully to life, as Tom and John fish at a watering hole or saddle up horses for a ride to town.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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