Review: Dear Sister by Alison McGhee
By Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Joe Bluhm
Atheneum (Simon & Shuster)
I’m a younger sibling. I am (according to Parent Magazine) “Fun loving, uncomplicated, and self-centered.” First borns, on the other hand, tend to be “Reliable, conscientious, and controlling.” You can see the differences here, right? It’s no wonder then that sibling stories have played so prominently in popular culture – it’s highly relatable, yes, but also built for conflict. And that’s what we find, albeit one-sided, in Dear Sister. An epistolary tale from the perspective of an incredulous older brother. With Dear Sister, Alison McGhee manages to put a fresh twist on the new sibling story.
Brother is not very excited about having a baby sister. And he’s not afraid to say it. He pens letters (often complete with illustrations) to relay this message to his younger sib. He’s much more interested in hanging out in his tree fort with his best pal. But when his best friend leaves, can the two form a bond of their own?
Joe Bluhm’s one-color (a nice cerulean blue) mixed media illustrations run the gamut – funny, quiet, surprising. For a book told through letters, the illustrations play a larger role than you might assume. Brother is a good artist, using pencil drawings to help make a point or share his mood. These are broken up with art from the “real world” of the story.
One challenge of the epistolary form is making a series of letters hang together as a story. McGhee does well here, as certain objects and situations meaningful to the brother/sister relationship continue to pop up throughout the book, often changing over time to show Brother’s slow but sure warming to his younger sibling. A picture book (Never Too Clever) plays an especially important role. It begins as a book sister makes brother read over and over (see also: torture device) but returns in the climax of the story in an unexpected – and friendship-cementing – way.
An inviting take on a situation that so many young readers experience.
Review copy purchased.
Filed under: Reviews
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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