Recommended for: Upper Elementary and Above
Poetry, Memoir or Fiction We’re going to bust up the “my sibling is so annoying” stereotype. If you're a kids' lit author, this is a great exercise for you. How do we do escape the stereotype without taking all the tension out of sib relationships?
One choice is to write about a moment when the balance tipped – unexpectedly – from playful to dangerous. (Poet Marie Howe has some wonderful poems on this topic.) Another choice, good for younger writers, is to write about the game that you and your brother play – the game no one else understands or knows the rules for.
An example: a friend of mine thinks her children hate each other. She doesn’t know (I found out from my kids, who are friends with her kids), that her two children have secret discussions through the bathroom door. My own children once addressed Christmas presents to each other with names I didn't recognize -- names from an imaginary world they'd made up.
For those of us who no longer live with our sisters, option 3: Choose a moment that symbolizes the sibling relationship for you. (Like the time I was babysitting my brother and his friend Doug and the two stinkers went on strike against me. Picket signs and everything. Points for creativity.) I’ve been working on a sibling poem for several years. Below is a version from 1996 – I couldn’t find the latest revision! I’d been to Israel and Egypt in 1990. You’ll see the influence of the desert landscape. The siblings in my poem get along. The tension comes from parents, outsiders in this landscape (choice #4). If you like this last idea, check out Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Veldt.” The parents in his future world are outsiders in the extreme. You'll find the story in his book, “The Illustrated Man.” Bedouin
Laura Shovan Bounding downstairs in his leopard skin bathrobe and Underoos, he scavenges milk and cereal with marshmallows. The younger kids follow. Breakfast done, building begins. They slide down the stairs on blankets raided from the upstairs closet. Chairs make good tent poles. Books and table weights keep out sand. He crawls inside first, as eldest son, proclaims it safe. “The carpet is a creeping desert,” he says, “So hot it might burn your feet. I can already see blisters.” Feeling their bare soles redden and swell they scramble underneath where the light is blue from blankets and the glow of cartoons on TV. They watch, entranced, huddling together against the approach of sandstorms, hungry animals, something catastrophic, afternoon. Upstairs their parents wake to parched throats, sandy eyes. It is too quiet, they say. Cautiously, they move downstairs, and find a tent-city, where they are tourists. Gone is the comfortable room, the plaid couches, the easy chairs, the decorative plants. The children, inside their tents, are watching the sun rise orange over the dunes.
Check the previous post and related comments for more on the sibling theme, including some great comments from kids’ lit bloggers about books that include realistic siblings.
One I read recently with my kids was Elizabeth Enright’s, Gone Away Lake. It won a Newbery Honor in ’57. The main characters are a sister, younger brother, and the cousin they spend the summer with.