Everything was fine UNTIL her little brother, Marvin, came along. When Lizzie tried to tell a story before breakfast, her mother said, "Not now, dear. Marvin has a dirty diaper." When she tried to tell her father a story after dinner, he said, "Maybe later, Lizzie. It's time for Marvin's bath."
Once Upon a Baby Brother by Sarah Sullivan, illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Farrar Straus Giroux (June 2010); ISBN 9780374346355; 32 pages; Ages 5-8
(Book Source: F&G Review copy from publisher, images used with permission)
Author Sarah Sullivan gives the classic sibling rivalry theme a comical and story-filled slant in her newest children's book about a big sister/little brother relationship. Lizzie, a young storyteller, loves to entertain everyone with her imaginative stories. When Marvin (her little brother) is born she continues telling stories but her parents are often too busy to listen. Lucky for her, she begins second-grade and her teacher, Miss Pennyroyal, encourages all the kids in her class to write stories. Lizzie ends up coping with her pesky brother by writing stories that star Marvin as an unpleasant character -- he's an ugly prince, a Marvinosaurus and even a nasty pirate. Lizzie uses her special Princess Merriweather pencil and her creative stories starring Marvin flow forth onto the pages. Then one fateful week Lizzie can't think of a single idea for her new school assignment. A hero eventually emerges and Lizzie realizes that having a sometimes annoying baby brother isn't necessarily a bad thing.
This amusing tale not only helps children appreciate their siblings but it also may inspire a new generation of writers. I was expecting a book about siblings but I wasn't expecting the amazingly creative ways Sullivan manages to make writing sound exciting for children. Seriously, where can we get our very own Princess Merriweather pencil topper like Lizzie's? Teachers and parents will find this book useful in helping children overcome writer's block by encouraging kids to write like Lizzie and describe their own personal experiences. Tricia Tusa happens to be one of my favorite illustrators and has a talent for bringing creative children characters to life (see my reviews of In a Blue Room or The Magic Hat). Her familiar, whimsical illustrations work perfectly in this story, and I especially love how she realistically includes multi-racial characters, even a minority teacher, in Lizzie's class. All of Lizzie's facial expressions are fantastic, especially those showing her exasperation and frustration with her brother. And once again I must mention Tusa's awesome illustrations of the Princess Merriweather pencil topper -- quirky perfection!
Like Lizzie, my daughter also loves to write and illustrate her own stories. Sometimes her stories include her brother, but I don't think she's ever turned him into a nasty character. I could see the wheels spinning in her head though as I read Sullivan's story aloud. I know she gets impatient with her little brother every once and awhile. She connected more deeply with this picture book than many others and it has already inspired her! Immediately after we read the story together, she grabbed a marker and some paper and set to work on her own book. While it didn't include her brother, she did say if she writes a story about her brother he'll be a great character. Awww, it just pulls at my heart strings! Lizzie, the main character in Once Upon a Baby Brother, is obviously is a good role model. However, I do think that a better title for this story would be "Once Upon a Little Brother" because the little brother in the story is more young toddler-aged than baby. Little brothers do indeed know exactly what buttons to push to aggravate their big sisters!
We couldn't resist making our own Princess Merriweather pencil topper! It's always more fun to write when you have a fun writing instrument. My daughter went simple with this craft and drew her own princess (a ballerina version) on some card stock, then we taped the princess to a Number 2 pencil. Super cute, super easy and ready for some novel writing adventures!
Sarah Sullivan - Author Website
Mountain View - Sarah Sullivan's blog
Sarah Sullivan's printable bookmarks
Scholastic article - "Help your child overcome writer's block"
JKSCommunications has kindly offered to giveaway one copy of Once Upon a Baby Brother to a Brimful Curiosities reader.
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