You know those picture books about sibling rivalry that end up with the angry, spurned sibling stomping off, only to discover that she or he doesn’t enjoy playing alone and then goes running back to the older sibling, who was once a cause of so much grief?
Amy Schwartz’s newest picture book, Dee Dee and Me, is all about sibling woes, but she doesn’t go for that kind of ending.
And I love it.
First of all, before writing about this book, I had to go and check older columns of mine to ensure I hadn’t previously sung Amy Schwartz’s praises here at Kirkus. (It’s never good to be redundant, and being repetitive is bad.) I figured I’d already devoted an entire column to how much I like her books—which, it turns out, I hadn’t, though I did mention her here. She has this uncanny ability to capture the way young children think and behave, and she does so without offering up syrupy-sweet lessons or sounding condescending to child readers.
And her books, I find, are emotionally resonant with young children, and this new one she’s written and illustrated? There’s such honesty here—not to mention healthy and entertaining doses of mischief. She really nails it.
The book is told from the point of view of a young sibling. This girl’s older sister, Dee Dee, is five and a half inches taller than our narrator. This is followed by: “Dee Dee says those five and a half inches are where a person’s brains are.”
I mean, right? There you have it, my friends. So funny. And we all know this older sister, even if you don’t have one yourself. She’s just imperious enough to be irritating, and she’s demanding and entirely in charge.
And it doesn’t stop there. At breakfast, Dee Dee always asks her sister if she wants the second chocolate chip muffin. And then she takes it. She praises her sister’s apron and then snips it up to make a purse out of it. When friends come over to play, Dee Dee makes her younger sister take on the role of the butler, even stealing the attention of the narrator’s own friends—and even calling her “Butsy.”
Well, Butsy decides she’s had enough. And I don’t mean just butler-ing. Without making a grand announcement about it to readers, she simply starts ignoring her sister. Not even in some forced, I’ll-show-you kind of way. We get the sense she’s smart enough—and respects herself enough—to simply not tolerate this nonsense anymore. Our narrator is suddenly “too busy” to hang out with her older sister, and Dee Dee’s stares reflect her mute amazement at her sister’s decision.
There are also plans to flee—“After I ran away from home, I’d never have to see Dee Dee again”—but there’s just one problem. She can’t find her stuffed bear, the very one that Dee Dee always mocks for having only one eye.
You might very well guess what happens next. Yes, Brown Bear is gone, because Dee Dee is fixing him. We find out later she’s sewn him a new eye, her peace offering.
But before that, we get several spreads of our narrator having a great time alone, and I love this about the book. She does all the things she loves to do, those things normally interrupted by Dee Dee. (“My brain was feeling bigger already.”) And never once does the plot slip into what you see in most picture books about sibling rivalry. That is, she doesn’t decide she’s bored or lonely. In effect, she possesses enough self-respect—here I am back to this notion, but it’s important—to know when to put a stop to being mistreated.
And I think that’s a great thing for children to read about, especially in such a funny and entertaining story.
And, once peace is made, the dynamics change when they play together again, as they should. Our narrator makes certain that happens. She’s a class act.
It’s bright (in more ways than one—Schwartz gives us a very sunny palette here). It’s funny. It’s very true. And it’s smart.
DEE DEE AND ME. Copyright © 2013 by Amy Schwartz. Published by Holiday House, New York. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.