Brothers and Sisters: Two picture books touchingly explore sibling relationships through illustrations as strong as the text, writes Sarah Ellis
“Scene: Two children stand in the late afternoon sunlight comparing shadows. The little brother says, “Look! I’m long!” His older sister replies, “I’m longer.”
Siblings give us our first experience of the tyranny of comparison. Birth order programs us for life, and, in childhood, where you fit in is as obvious as your shoe size or those marks on the doorframe. It’s no wonder our position in the family is such a rich source of material for picture books.
Hoogie in the Middle, by Stephanie McLellan and illustrated by Dean Griffiths, features a family of benevolently hairy monsters who look like a cross between a domestic long-haired cat and one of Sendak’s wild things (the horned one in the striped pullover), resplendent in My Little Pony colours. Pumpkin, the eldest child, is blue like mom. Baby Tweezle is green like Dad, but middle child Hoogie is magenta, like herself. Hoogie feels ignored and neglected, neither as cute as Tweezle, nor as competent as Pumpkin. Finally she has a meltdown, and Dad and Mom helicopter in to comfort her.
This picture book is a terrific example of words and images doing their own job. The text gives us movement (as Pumpkin skips and Tweezle toddles), melody (as Hoogie whispers, “Too big. Too small. No room for me at all”), and, most of all, metaphor (“Sometimes Hoogie feels like the hole in the middle of a donut.”
The pictures carry the emotional weight. The composition of family scenes says it all: close pairings of parent and child leave Hoogie floating alone against a white background; Hoogie looks sideways across a double-page spread but nobody is looking back; her sister and brother are enclosed in circles and triangles while she’s isolated on a facing page.
Griffiths captures the body language of children (well, of childlike, horned, fanged, cat-like things) perfectly. The final spread shows Hoogie swinging between her parents’ hands, her posture a subtle combination of joy and tension, triumph and just a tiny bit of anger…”
—Q&Q feature reviewer SARAH ELLIS is a Vancouver author and former librarian.