Big Sisters and Brothers

Eliza Clark
March 8, 2009

Our toddlers and preschoolers are the bravest souls we know. Social challenge after social challenge comes their way - learning to walk and talk, to make friends and go to school, practice table manners, and on and on. As if that all weren't just plenty to deal with, as soon as they hit the distinguished age of two or three, we very often throw them the biggest curve ball of all: a new baby who'll be stealing at least half of mom and dad's attention for, well, forever. And we expect them to take it in stride. The good news: eventually they will, and to a degree you never could have imagined when your eldest was the one and only star in your universe. The bad news: in the short-term, not so much. You are all in for a wild ride of conflicted preschooler emotions, and the only things that help are lots of patience, lots of understanding, and lots of talking about every facet of this new little being and what it means to be a big sister or brother. There's no better way to start those conversations than with some of the lovely books below.

I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. Of all the transformations our little ones go through in their early years, becoming an older sibling is surely one of the most momentous. This sweet and simple book (also available in an I'm a Big Sister version) is great preparation. It sticks to the basics in a cheerful tone. Its lines are easy to remember, and will likely become mantras for you and your preschooler as you talk about the new baby: "I am gentle with the baby," the little boy narrator proclaims, and "I'm a big brother -I can make our baby warm and cozy," but also (crucially) "I must ask mommy first" before holding the baby, and so on. When everyone in the family is going slightly nuts with joy and confusion and exhaustion, you all need an emotional life raft of sorts, and this slim book proves a surprisingly sturdy one.

The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole. The whole notion that there's a baby inside mommy's tummy is wonderfully abstract to most preschoolers. So as the big day approaches, there's some value to bringing this fuzzy concept into a bit clearer focus. That's where this well-done book of photographs comes in. Yes, the parents' clothes and hairdos will give you flashbacks to the 1980s, but the pictures of these newborns and their big sisters and brothers in varying states of shock/delight/dismay are timeless, and absolutely riveting to prospective older siblings. The text explores the range of emotions that preschoolers feel toward the tiny creatures, but the pictures are what make this book worthwhile. And yes, you'll soon have plenty of your own photos telling the very same story!

Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. Why do children's strong feelings so often center on objects - special toys, blankets, or other things? We don't quite know the answer, but Ezra Jack Keats cleverly taps into this current of emotion to tell a lovely story about what it means to become a big brother. Peter, beloved hero of The Snowy Day and other titles, expresses his dismay at the birth of his little sister by hiding his old baby chair so that it can't be painted pink like all of his other baby things. Peter's possessiveness doesn't last long, and like most of our preschoolers, he learns to feel kindly toward the baby soon enough. As ever, Keats' beautiful watercolor cut-out images make this an appealing read for all.

The Maggie B. by Irene Haas. We have praised this book before, and we surely will again because it is such a multi-faceted favorite. This is not a story "about sibling issues" but is nevertheless perhaps our very favorite picture book on the theme. It's about what a little girl's fondest wish-come-true would look like. Margaret Barnstable wishes on a star - wishes to sail the sea on her own ship with "someone nice for company." When her dream comes true for a day, who does she choose as a companion? Her best friend? Mommy? A made-up fairy godmother? None of the above, but rather, her little brother James "who was a dear baby." That just melts our parental hearts every time. And what a wonderful, whimsical adventure this big sister and baby brother have together! Don't miss this one, whatever you do.

Big Sister, Little Sister by Leuyen Pham. If your new big sister has any doubts about how important and special her role is, let her read this adorable ode to sisterhood. A spunky little sister catalogs all the great things about having a big sister: she tells great stories, and always watches out for her. Hand-me-downs on the other hand.

From the Parents

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