May 17, 2013

A sweet story of brotherly love

By Catharine O'Neill
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With the abundance of sibling rivalry books available, the Annie and Simon books by British author Catharine O’Neill offer a refreshing reminder that there are positive sibling relationships. Annie and Simon (2008) was inspired by the author’s daughter and her much older half-brothers. Now Annie and her “big, big brother” Simon return in Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories with more of their gentle, episodic interactions.

In “Living Things,” the pair enjoys a summer day at a lake, with Annie drawing a crayfish, a dragonfly and other living things and Simon providing interesting facts about each one. Other stories involve plenty of fun with the family dog, the unexpected pleasure of watching a squirrel hide autumn horse chestnuts, and an innocuous sneeze from Simon that elicits full-blown TLC from Annie (including a neck blanket, a partially-used hankie and a stash of gummy bears). Loosely drawn, watercolor illustrations by the author emphasize Annie’s zest for life and Simon’s endearing and seemingly endless patience (as well as his long, spindly legs).

This nearly idyllic sister and brother aren’t completely harmonious, however. Quick glimpses of annoyance are shown with a subtle scowl from Annie or an eye roll from Simon. But quick is the key word here, for a moment later the pair is back to their light, and occasionally humorous, banter.

Beginning readers will delight in the charming yet exuberant way Annie learns about the world and plays with her older sibling. And parents won’t be able to resist a big brother who enjoys his little sister enough to give her an occasional kiss on the top of the head.

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