Inside: If your goal is to help your kids be friends for life, you will appreciate this collection of books to foster sibling relationships.
Whether you have two children or five, you know that sibling relationships have ups and downs. One moment they walk into the kitchen giggling, and the next a fight breaks out over who gets to sit in a chair by the window or whose piece of toast is the biggest.
Fortunately, there is a lot parents can do to help children get along and become good friends—emotional coaching, opportunities for bonding (i.e. a game of Jenga), and, of course, reading great books about siblings.
To make the most of your reading, talk with your kids about what they liked and didn’t like regarding the sibling relationship in the story. Did they approve of the behavior? How did it make them feel when the main characters behaved especially nice or particularly mean? Did they learn something they didn’t know before?
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Books to Foster Sibling Relationships
Poinsettia and Her Family, Felicia Bond
Each of my kids went through the stage when this was their favorite book and with good reason. It has playful drawings, humor, and an exciting plot. Poinsettia has six brothers and sisters, and they are getting on her nerves. One day she decides to stay home alone and tricks her family into getting in a car and driving away without her.
While her family is away, Poinsettia has the time of her life. She doesn’t have to wait for her turn, watch her manners, or limit her bath time. But her family gets stuck in a snowstorm and doesn’t return for a very long time. It gives Poinsettia the opportunity to realize something very important about her family.
Even though this book is 40 years old, it reads as if it had been written today. Felicia Bond is seriously amazing. Her book Tumble Bumble is another one of those books in my house that have been required daily reading for years (even though 3 out of my 4 kids already know it by heart).
Little One Step, Simon James
We all love this sweet tale about three ducklings who get lost far away from home. The smallest one is not sure he can make it back to his mom, but he has his older brothers to cheer him on and to teach him an important life lesson that even long journeys start with one little step. It’s a great example for kids of how they can use words and actions to encourage and be nice to each other. The yellow-themed watercolor illustrations are extremely fun.
Kalinka and Grakkle, Julie Paschkis
The first time I read this book to my kids, I was a little confused. “I don’t get it,” I said to my kid.“What do you think this book is about?” “I know,” said my 8-year old confidently. “The bird is doing everything wrong just like siblings do sometimes. But when the bird gets in trouble, the monster saves her and they end up taking a nap together.” Trust the kids to figure it out.
This book soon became required daily reading. We love the whacky illustrations and the fun details like the pickle bucket and the fact the bird ate all the cookies and said “don’t mention it,” as if it was doing everyone a favor.
The Brother Book, Todd Parr
What makes for a perfect brother? Is a quiet brother better than a wild one? Or is it the other way around? Is the brother who yells when he is upset better than the brother who cries? This bright, one-sentence-per-page book is great for celebrating the brother your child has because brothers come in many different sizes and with many personality quirks. They are awesome even when they are different from everyone’s idea of what they should be. Do your sons have a little trouble getting along? This book is for them.
In a Small Kingdom, Tomie de Paola
Before the old king died, he chose as his successor his young, thoughtful, and gentle son. The only problem is that there is also an older half-brother in the picture who says, “The old king was my father too. How dare he choose my half-brother to be the king?” The jealous half-brother slashes to bits and scatters to the wind the magical Imperial Robe that is the source of all powers. The young prince is in despair because it turns out he can’t be a king without the Robe.
In the tradition of classic fairy tales, evil is punished, good triumphs, and your kids will ask you to read it again because there is no kid in the world who doesn’t feel at least a little bit jealous of his/her siblings once in a while and feels a little bad about it (sometimes). Besides, who doesn’t like a well-written story where anything is possible, and the ending is happy.
My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Patricia Polacco
Tricia’s older brother is driving her crazy. He can do everything better than her. He can run faster, climb higher, and burp louder. He can dangle her doll over her head to make her jump for it. And, most annoyingly, he can say, “I’m four years older than you… Always have been and always will be.” But one day Tricia has an accident that helps her discover that she doesn’t yet know all her brother can do.
This thought-provoking true story about two siblings will stay with your kids for a long time. It’s great for discussing relationships and emotions. The drawings are colorful and very expressive. On a second or third reading, you can start asking questions: How do you think she feels here? Does she look like she’s enjoying the company of her brother?
Patricia Polacco is a master storyteller who has written and illustrated over a hundred books. Share with your kids the amazing fact that she didn’t learn how to read until she was 14 because nobody realized she had dyslexia. And she didn’t write her first book until she was in her forties. It’s an inspiring example that we don’t have to have it all figured out from the start. We can make it up as we go.
Little Rabbit Lost, Harry Horse
It’s Little Rabbit’s 4th birthday, and he’s s a big bunny now. He feels confident that he can handle the big rides just like his older brothers and sisters. He can totally do that. Or not.
After Little Rabbit is lost at an amusement park, he changes his mind about how much independence he is ready to handle. This book will be very popular with your younger kids who sometimes get frustrated about the things they can’t do as well as the older kids. The illustrations are funny, especially the spread of the amusement park.
Zen Shorts, Jon J Muth
There are three siblings in this Caldecott Honor book, and they each have a different lesson to learn from a Zen panda. We especially like the one about little Karl who spends the whole day being mad at his brother and doesn’t notice how much fun he had with the panda.
For the longest time, we thought that “zen shorts” meant something like “thinking cap,” an item of clothing you put on to be zen-like. Then we discovered the book’s last page where the author explains that “shorts” mean brief musings, opportunities to reexamine our habits and fears. The library copy had the last pages taped under the plastic cover. Oops! This book is better for kids older than 8.
Adele & Simon, Barbara McClintock
A girl of about seven picks up her little brother (of about 5) from school. “Simon, please try not to lose anything today,” she says, but of course, he manages to loose a great many different things before they get home. Even though my kids live in a different place and time (if kids this age walked alone on the streets of Chicago today, they would be picked up by the police), they enjoyed learning about this family and discussing their relationship. We also liked looking for Simon’s lost items on each page of beautiful artwork—pen-and-ink drawings filled with watercolors.
Silly Chicken, Rikhsana Khan
Two sisters, one silly chicken, and a whole lot of grief. When Ami gets obsessed with a chicken, her sister Rami feels that her sister doesn’t love her anymore. But when the chicken disappears, leaving behind an egg and a broken heart, Rami tries to help her sister feel better. Then an unexpected thing happens: when the egg hatches the second sister falls in love with a chicken. Now it’s Ami’s turn to wonders if her sister loves her less than her pet.
When one sibling develops a deep interest in something, the other sibling might feel left out. I’m familiar with this scenario. When my daughter got obsessed with gymnastics, her brothers felt puzzled. “Why is she always talking about gymnastics? Why is she always doing gymnastics?! Why can’t she just be normal again,” they wanted to know. They eventually decided that the best solution to the problem was to get immersed in her world. Now they also take gymnastics and practice together at home.
Little Pierre, Robert D. San Souci
The siblings’ relationship in this story can only be described as dysfunctional. The older four brothers seem to enjoy belittling and verbally abusing their little brother, who is kind and smart. If you wonder why you should read this book to your kids at all, here is one good reason: they need to decide who they don’t want to be so they can be more rooted in who they are. But if you need another reason, San Souci’s writing and Catrow’s paintings are a treat. Because of the amount of text and the subject matter, this book is better for kids older than 8.
It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny, Marilyn Sadler
This funny story is one of my favorites. P.J. Funnybunny has too many siblings. Plus he’s tired of his mom’s cooking (carrots again, arh). While Poinsettia’s strategy (see above) was to trick her family into leaving her home alone, P.J. Funnybunny decides to leave home and tries to live with different families to find a better match.
It turns out the grass is not greener on the other side. The bear family is overzealous about bedtime (Hibernating all winter? No, thank you!) and the skunk family is just way too smelly. The book illustrates the challenges of being part of a family and the fact that your own family is the best for you even if sometimes it’s carrots for dinner again.
Do you have a favorite book that fosters sibling relationships I didn’t include? Share the title in the comments, and we can keep this list growing.