Small Sister by Jessica Meserve is a classic tale of a younger sister trying to catch up with her older sister. Small can't jump as high or run as fast as Big. Big gets better presents, too. Eventually, Small is pushed to her limit, and lashes out against her sister, committing a rash act. But this makes her feel worse, instead of better. Things don't improve until Small finds an important task, one which only she can do. This puts the two sisters on a much more equal footing, an example sure to be cherished by younger siblings everywhere.
Small Sister is digitally illustrated, with tremendous detail. Small is particularly vibrant, with her sad eyes and pouty mouth. The outdoor backgrounds are filled with flowers and butterflies and grasses, and give a feeling of expansiveness. The indoor scenes are detailed, too, with patterned tablecloths and wallpaper, and the amount of pink that you would expect in a home with two young girls. There's a bit of a modern-day Little House on the Prairie feel to the setting, with a small house on a hill, surrounded by wildflower-filled fields. The parents are nowhere to be seen.
The author also uses the illustrations to symbolically capture Small's impression of Big. Throughout most of the book we don't see Big in the flesh. Instead, she looms as a menacing shadow over Small. However, when we finally do see Big, after Small's mean act towards her, she's nowhere near as large, or as threatening, as she looked in the shadows. She's just another little girl.
This book is a joy to look at. Even the relatively sparse text is used in a visual manner. On the first page, we learn that "Small had a problem." "Problem" is in larger text, looming. Later, and this is my favorite spread in the book, the guilty-feeling Small "decided to leave." The words "Nobody noticed" curve along the pathway, towards the front gate, trailing the forlorn Small. It's fun and playful, with just the right touch of pathos.
Small Sister would make an excellent gift for any younger sibling striving to catch up with an older one, regardless of gender. And aren't most younger siblings trying to catch up? Nostalgic and outdoor-loving adults will especially enjoy the illustrations. The last page, with the two sisters playing in the trees, made me want to join Small and Big, or at least watch them fondly from the nearby porch.
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: May 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.