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Healthy Sibling Relationships

via Ashia

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Quick Things You Need To Know:

  • This is an unpolished book list for patreon supporters where I’m keeping my notes on books before I curate & polish a public list.
  • I’m temporarily making these unpolished lists freely available for the public to help with educators & families affected during pandemic school shutdowns.
  • These are the books that work for my particular Earthquakes – aged 2 years apart, and bizzarely glued at the hip (it literally takes two trained adults to lure them apart).
  • During the pandemic, the Earthquakes (ages 5/6 & 7/8 – they both are celebrating birthdays this month) are spending their time together 24/7 and sleep in the same room. With the short exception of an hour or so each night when each parent takes a kid.
  • Which means SQUABBLES. Constant squabbles. So we’re ramping up books modelling healthy conflict resolution and sibling relationships.

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Quick & Messy Book List:

Favorites to read together

  • The Charlie & Mouse (early chapter book series).
    Best for 4+ (although R2 was willing to sit through it at 3.5). The Earthquakes loved this at 4 & 6 and then again at 5 & 7. Each of the books in this series are adorable and sweet with kind and gentle white boys with healthy masculinity. The relationship uniquely reflects the Earthquakes – so I don’t know how well it will work for kids who aren’t two tutu-clad brothers glued at the hip. But for us it’s they best. Each book consists of short, simple chapters from everyday kid life, with gentle humor that makes the kiddos giggle. Both boys are white, but neighbors and friends are people of color with a good mix of gender. In each story, they build each other up and clearly appreciate each other’s company.

    • Charlie & Mouse – ch1: lumps (silly goofing around kid jokes, also validating for exhausted parents),  ch2: party (made it themselves by telling everyone they’re heading to a party), ch3 rocks (good for talking about saving,  working as a team & basic economics), ch 3 bedtime banana (silly, this one got the kids a little rowdy with guffaws). Normalizes interracial gay neighbor couple.
    • Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy –  ch 1 is about being big, (and medium). ch2 is about pouncing on grumpy – ch 3 is about grumpy singing the wrong songs at bedtime, which is perfect to show that different caretakers have different skills and expectations. ch 4 is about the sad feeling when we have to say goodbye – elders grandparents (grandfathers), growing up, separation anxiety
    • Charlie & Mouse Outdoors  R2 loved this at 5.5/6, small chapters, cute and funny. great for discussing boredom – how to use what we see to inspire a story and just go with the flow of playing together. camping, outdoors
  • The Maple & Willow Series
    Everything in this series features common themes for sibling conflict with realistic escalation and they always come together in the end to show the kids that squabbling is normal and temporary.

    • Maple – For validating big siblings expecting a new baby sibling. seasons, tree lovers. Best for older siblings roughly at roughly age 4-6.
    • Maple & Willow Together – Perfect for 4 & 6. Helps kids understand how small slights can escalate into violent conflict, which breaks it down to help them see how and when they need to stop before things go too far. Great for showing how difficult it is to resolve conflict if you let it cross the line into violence. Shows a peace-offering apology from both of them at the end (would have liked the apology more spelled out, but it’s fine.) Apologizing, conflict & making up
    • Maple & Willow Apart – This was perfect for the two years while each kid went to a different school (preschool while the other went to kindergarten at ages 3 & 5), but it got stale for ages 4 & 6 in the second year of being apart (they just didn’t need it any more). The theme runs along that feeling of missing out when one kid goes someplace the other sibling can’t access, or makes friends outside the sibling group. jealousy, school bus, kindergarten, elementary, empathy, sibling separation anxiety, feeling left out, changes in relationships
    • Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree – wonderful story of ableism & amends, where a kid makes her sister with allergies feel bad. but then later thinks of way to make it up to her. ages 4+, disability, allergies,  conflict, resentment.
  • We Are Brothers  – LOVELY. normalizing gentle complex Black masculinity (although this is NOT OwnVoices). How siblings can cheer each other on and foster courage. kind of surreal/magic as we see him envision himself as a bird/fish/cat. Q at 6 was enamored, r2 at 4, less so. the story is mostly about how his brother believing in him is what helps him overcome his fear. good summer read (they jump into a lake). healthy masculinity!
  • The Day Louis Got EatenThis was a peak favorite at ages 3 & 5. R2 has requested this book out of the blue often enough that we finally added it to his birthday gift list – and it’s not the novelty, he still pulls it out to read frequently and references it at age 5. this strongly appealed to Q even when R2 was an infant. the sequence of larger and larger animals, the slightly violent idea of getting eaten, the big sister rescuing her big brother. I love that the girl tenaciously engineers contraptions to follow her brother thought out the story without breaking sweat. R2 particularly loves the way the little brother stands tall to protect his sister, despite being tiny and edible. innovation, adventures, silly books, monsters, kickass girls, STEAM, bravery
  • Sumo Joe – #OwnVoices AAPI multiracial author, adipositivity, healthy masculinity, being an accomplice. See good finds August 2019 for full notes.
  • Louise loves art – Louise is too self-absorbed to pay attention to her little brother, who is excited to show her his art. I love the little black cat in the background emoting through body language and facial expressions – we like to discuss how the cat feels in each page. When Louise feels sad, each kid gets a chance to explain what they felt when something like this happened to them and their brother destroyed something of theirs, which is cathartic and connecting, giving each kid a chance to listen to how his actions made his brother feel. “I felt like that when R2 broke my…” ultimately Louise sees how sorry Art is, and decides her love for him usurps her masterpiece, and she takes a huge step and celebrates his creation anyway. So kind and loving ad perfect. worked well for ages 3.5 & 5.5 together, normalizing glasses, forgiveness, pesky little siblings
  • Benji The Bad Day, and Me  R2 has been pulling this out for me to read to him often, now that he’s in kindergarten and has a bad day basically every day. We discuss the things that he perceive as happening to him, and how he has a part in it. It’s super validating for the each brother (both allistic and autistic) kid to see how it’s hard sometimes to see the otehr brother get accomodations for what he needs due to his age, emotional needs, or disability. Autism, empathy, responsibility
  • Serena: The Littlest Sister – OMG YES. this is the biography I’ve been searching for on the Williams sisters.  Instead of trying to cover both of them, focusing just on the youngest created a much more engaging story, and the reader gets a better sense of the strong relationship between them. Most importantly – the book doesn’t completely erase the other sisters as if they don’t exist and aren’t important, just because they didn’t become pro athletes. We get to see how there are many different ways to be successful and important in the world. SO GOOD. R2 & Q enjoyed at 5 & 7, but was better for 7+ Sports, Black women’s history.
    • Sisters: Venus & Serena Williams (Winter) – is a distant second choice. The tall format made it difficult to read with kids (easy to get over, but affects storytime with multiple kids). Well done, but still reads like a dry library book. good biographies make the story about how the person connects with the reader – and this book is just a dry report, women’s history, black women’s history, athletes
  • Girl and the bicycle – See more in radical interdependence collection, working & saving money, ages 2+, generosity, illustration-only
  • Roberto Walks Home – not 100% on it, since I would have liked to see the older brother make a better apology than just leaving his beloved ball and telling his brother not to be like that. but validates feeling of being forgotten and left out, betrayed when older brother he looks up to ditched him to play ball with big kids. imagines taking the basketball from his brother (having the power). Temper tantrums – healthy outlets, validates fury. validating for little siblings, black women writers, add to frustrations over being little, normalizing boys of color, healthy masculinity validating sadness & anger in boys.
  • When Aidan Became A Brother – See notes in August 2019 Good Finds.
  • Superluminous – See notes in April 2020 Good Finds
  • How To Share With a Bear – The bear is not scary (R2 at agev3 was afraid at first but quickly became clear that the bear was more of a nuisance than a threat). all we see is the back of the bear’s head as it casually walks around the house. finally we see the bear’s face, and it’s a little boy in a bear suit crying “That’s when the bear came back. When he saw Thomas in the cave, he tried to snuggle in next to him. But the cave was too small. The bear started to cry.” So thomas knocks down his own fort and suggests they build a new one together htat can fit them both. Inclusion!!! SUCH a sweet sibling book about pesky siblings and kindness. 4.5 liked it for multiple reads, 6.5 was a little beyond it. pesky little siblings, forts, sharing.
  • The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy – Great for ages 3-6, especially for older kids at 5-7: Q is surprised and upset to learn that R2 has his own opinions and urges now. Owen is younger than R2, and they LIKE playing together, so it’s no quite the same. but they still like seeing that they are not alone in feeling frustrated with each other and wanting some space. sibling conflict, pesky little siblings, super heroes.
  • Red and Yellow’s Noisy Night still holds up at 4 & 6 (but was a little too simple for 7+), compromise, particularly since one kid is SUPER DUPER LOUD at bedtime and the other one just begs him to be quiet so he can sleep. very simple, fun read for 2+, but Q still LOVED it at 5y. yellow wants to sleep, red wants to play strummy, and they are at an impasse. they learn to compromise. cooperation, compromise, sensory-seeking loud & noisy children
  • The seven chinese brothers – mahy – avoided this book forever because i HATE the five chinese brothers. plus this is written by a white lady. but was doing research on AAPI tseng illustrators and tried it out. turns out lovely. first of all it counters the western demasculization of Asian men. these dudes are beefcakes. book starts out pointing out that the brothers look similar enough that people think they are identical. worth noting how the chinese illustrators took pains to make htt brothers look very, very similar, but throughout the story, they retain individual differences that carry on, and as you look closely over time, they are distinct and different in posture, expression, and facial features. i like this as a way to counter that racst claim that all asians look the same. both kids loved that this felt like a next generation to mcdermott’s Anansi (who we love despite the problematic appropriation issues with mcdermott). healthy sibling relationships – each brother uses his strength to protect each other, and it’s just so lovely how the pattern repeats: sadness and fear that sparks empathy, a brother leaps in to help. when he’s in danger, he CRIES! which is so lovely.  at this age of 4.5 & 6.5, we need that reminder, constant, that crying is good and healthy, it’s an effective way to show our emotions, vent, to comfort ourselves. healthy masculinity 100%! both kids laugh at the hijinks, and it’s not dark and gross like the other 5 chinese brothers book. there’s something kind of mischievous and light about it, despite the impending violence. that said, i wouldn’t have read this before 4.5, the kids have to be ready to start seeing the difference on how a leader who resorts to violence (and overtaking/killing competition rather than inviting them to cooperate – terrible leaders) is a cautionary tale, rather than an exemplary one. “Bones of iron won’t bend or buckle of break, but they will sink’ he thought to himself, and he burst into tears.” in the end, it’s the brother they were all trying to protect – the one who cries rivers, who saves them all and puts an end to it. the symbolism of his tears washing away the emperor, clarifying the land and bringing them fish to eat is a lovely one. this is all about the utility of healthy emotion and celebrating crying. i also love the ‘ai ya!’s. for older kids, this is also an intro to chinese history, the theme of rallying two armies, building the great wall (with the real Emperor Qin Shi Huang) giving us an door to talk about the historical conflict on unity and division, empiricism, and the difficulties of defending China against western forces (hence the wall). Mahy’s version also numbers the brothers, in keeping with chinese tradition. unlike in 5 chinese brothers, no child dies (no one dies, in fact)
  • train man – best in this series, the other ones have crappy illustrations but this one is great. the big brother mostly talks about growing up to drive a train, but makes sure to focus on his baby brother too, and giving him a chance to join in. 2+, new baby
  • Hip-hop lollipop – montanari – 4.5 LOVED this, 6.5 less so. The rhymes are awesome, and it’s fun to read (although hard to keep up the pace since you have to flip the pages). music, poetry, normalizing black families, healthy sibling relationship – both girls dance together even though they like different types of music. bedtime. very cute, black woman author & illustrator makers of color. add to normalizing girls of color
  • The Proudest Blue (ali) – disclosure: got a copy from LFBC, but only after I recommended it. R2 enjoyed this at 5. SO GOOD, destigmatizing Muslims.  7 only wanted to read it once, but 5 enjoyed it for several reads and it’s worth bringing back every couple months for more todiscuss. being the first/only, islamaphobia, bullying, representation, leadership by visibility

Worth checking out

  • The Two Mutch Sisters – brendler – wanted this to be about need versus want, but it didn’t quite fit that. more of a sibling book about needing their own space and their own style, but still needing each other. cute and funny story, but short. i do like that it featured older women who are both competent and interesting without stereotypes. in fact, one of them jacks up a house and puts it on sleds. healthy sibling relationships, already in elders collection
  • Rocket Says Look up! (bryon) this was GREAT and would be perfect for kids with tween& teen older siblings, perfect 3-7.  unplugging (her brother is obsessed with his phone) normalizing girls of color
  • SkySisters (Waboose) – ownvoices indigenous (Nishinawbe Ojibway), grew up in northern ontario. no reference to enrollment or affiliation for Brian. winter story about going out and enjoying a dark winter night. a little dated and unengaging for 5 & 7, healthy sibling relationships from perspective of younger child who is a little envious of her sister for leading. they see rabbit, deer, hear coyote, grandmother moon, patience waiting for the SkySpirits to come (northern lights). anti-climactic and a little too bland for us. healthy sibling relationships. Highly recommended on AICL, which suggests there are elements to the story that I’m simply missing as an outsider/settler.

Fine but not worth getting again

  • The Sweetest Witch – mcghee – not much story. stereotypical halloween witch teachers her sister about human halloween traditions, and is grossed out to see that her sister likes candy (which she finds disgusting). little sister escapes and goes trick or treating. big sister finds and fetches/rescues her. healthy sibling relationships, brave girls
  • Brothers – mcPhail – bland and boring. healthy sibling relationships. everyone is white. they squabble and compromise, which is cute, but there are better books for this type of thing that are’t so didactic.
  • Tell me what it’s like to be big (dunbar) – got for feelings of frustration over being little. healthy sibling relationship, this time at R2 5.5 we focused on all the things he can do now that he couldn’t the first time we read this book. normalizing single mother family constellations
  • The Seven Princesses – coh – sibling conflict, sisters have a squabble, hide away in separate towers, miss each other. very simple story and there were waaaay too many characters to get the point across. more of a fun to look at set of illustrations. multiracial transracial adoptee family (white king, brown queen (ambiguously south asian, hard to tell), with daughters of various races – including east asian so it’s clear some are adopted. but all have flowing straight or wavy hair. wish there was more story, but the illustrations were great.  sibling conflict, healthy sibling relationships. normalizing transracial & multiracial families
  • Spencer and Vincent – healthy sibling relationships with brothers who adore each other but they tell, don’t show. One gets lost, the other looks for him. Despite super cute illustrations the story is really boring. Skip
  • Do you know what I’ll do (Zolotow. illus by steptoe) – healthy sibling relationships, but the illustrations are bland and blocky. would be nice for a 3yo to read alongside baby infant sibling, but at 4.5 & 6.5 it feels like we’re aging out of this kind of simple book.
  • caps for sale – technically not a sibling book, but since monkeys do what the huma does – we used this lesson for older sibling not to model bad behavior
  • The owl and the two rabbits (sammurtok) Inuit, Indigenous animal stories. healthy sibling relationships, teamwork (added to collective action post already), greed. the writing is clunky but the parable sticks with the kids well at 5 & 7, particularly now that they’re at the age where brotherhood is everything to them
  • The grand expedition – adibage(sp?) – not bad, but bland. two kids (looks norwegian?) camp out in back yard. cute, everyday sibling adventure. single dad, but he doesn’t really do any caretaking. healthy sibling relationships, but story is forgettable
  • Where’s bunny? – theo heras – focuses mostly on boy, but h is big sister plays a part. siblings are kind and supportive of each other. pre-bedtime routine. SUPER cute illustrations. i want to snuggle them. daily life
  • Dogs Don’t Eat Jam – tsiang – funny and cute. AAPI (although likely canadian) makers but the characters are all white – seems like a missed opportunity. narrated by big sister (in kindergarten) explaining all the things her baby will need to know. cute and funny, but since we don’t have a new baby to get our kids on board about, I’ll skip it. but would be nice for a age 4-7 kid expecting a new baby sibling soon, to show them what a leader they can be. multiracial asian women makers
  • Mabel And Sam At Home – urban – kind of long. cute. brother and sister imagine things together and make pretend boxes are rocket ships and boats. not worth reading for us unless we planned to move. broken into 3 parts that kind of meld together – packing up (with movers), as if the sea is full of pirates (movers), exploring the new house and inspecting belongings like items in a museum, and then exploring space which I guess is a bedroom story about going to bed. healthy sibling relationships, moving house, normalizing kids of color (ambiguously brown family)
  • Friends and pals and brothers too – Wilson – normalizing kind and gentle brown boys. Meh. They get along and do basic stuff together but it’s all very boring, healthy sibling relationships
  • Secret Tree Fort – little sister wants attention of big, tempts her by making up stories about a fantastic tree fort. healthy sibling relationships, imagination
  • Jinx and the doom fight crime – mantchev – cute, healthy sibling relationship. but they never define what crime is, and I prefer manny cleans up for that kind of fun activity. cute, but not worth reading. single mom, healthy sibling relationships, super heroes
  • how to build a snow bear – pinder – boring, not as good as other one. not BAD. thomas lures his little brother (the bear) out from his nap by baking cookies so his brother will help him build a snow person (worth noting there is at last one snowlady in the background). they work together and build a snowbear. very cute the way they cuddle. healthy sibling relationships, brothers (both he). cute but not worth getting again
  • How Dalia put a big yellow comforter inside a tiny blue box – tzedakah, heller, jewish culture. meh. wanted to like this, about giving and saving and being a healthy sibling relationship but it was just so boring. not bad, but not worth reading.
  • Thread of love – sehgal – raksha bandhan celebration (Indian festival), love that binds brothers and sisters. gendered, but not in a negative way. interesting to see how different things are made and expected as a mutual support between brothers and sisters. song is in the tune of frere jacques, which is adorable. illustrations are cute. seems best for kids under 6. healthy sibling relationships, mutual respect, love. i love the end when they show all over the world in different countries, kids celebrating (wearing mostly indian garb, presumably indian expats). conspicuous lack of colorism, main characters are dark with a lighter sister. i could see using this as a book to encourage siblings to make gifts for each other (even just brothers). India, south Asia, multiracial illustrator makers (Latinx, Jewish, white). R2 liked this, only because he enjoyed following the line. didn’t absorb the message at all, which didn’t really tell us anything. Q found it unbearable. not really for us, more of a celebration for people who already know what this holiday is about, or people who want to appear worldly. Re: gender: the girls are expected to wake up early while the boy sleeps in and make him jewelry. then he gives them pre-made (and presumably store-bought) presents of jewelry and sweets. Which feels like a ton of labor for the girls and bros can just toss cash? That seems unfair, esp if without seeing how this is symbollic of something other than men getting to shirt domestic care because they get paid outside the home. AAPI, holidays

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