Recently, a reading specialist and I were lamenting the difficulty of finding picture books for older readers that aren't re-e-e-e-e-e-ally long (no disrespect, Patricia Polacco). And then along comes Big Red Lollipop. Although it will play well with little girls, the book focuses on a kind of frustration and embarrassment familiar to upper elementary and middle school girls. This is more than a sibling rivalry story.
First of all, Rubina's family comes from Pakistan. So when Rubina rushes home, waving a birthday party invitation, her mother (referred to as "Ami") wonders what a birthday party is. And then she insists that Rubina take her little sister, Sana, to be fair. Rubina knows that none of the other girls will bring their younger siblings, but her mother insists.
So where do you think this is going? In so many books, the child is horrified to be different, but it all works out when, after a little prodding by an understanding adult, the other children are delighted by the difference. Not so here. Sama ruins the party. And then she eats the big red lollipop Rubina saves from the party, planning to savor it after the sting of embarrassment has worn off.
The adults in this book--Ami in particular--just do not get it. Ami scolds Rubina for chasing her sister around the room in a rage. And then ... time passes. And Sama gets invited to a birthday party. And Ami insists that Sama take her next younger sister, Maryam. Will it ever end? Read to find out!
Perhaps I adore this storyline because I was an eldest child and I know what it's like to break parents in! I do think it will especially resonate with the children of immigrants. At the same time, some children will be surprised to learn that other cultures do not celebrate birthdays. And those little jolts are good for kids.
Besides a storyline that is sure to appeal to a child's finely honed sense of injustice, this book has fantastic illustrations. The expressions on the characters' faces speak volumes. I especially like their eyebrows. I'm not kidding. Sophie Blackall draws each individual eyebrow hair, and then makes the eyebrows display everything from shame to skepticism to sudden delight.
The textiles in the illustrations are also notable: clothing, rugs and quilts on every page feature repeat-patterns of swirls, pokadots, and what I'm guessing are variations on Pakistani borders and designs. The book is delicious, and I would love to wear clothing designed by the illustrator, who, incidentally, does the covers for the Ivy and Bean books. The character's outfits are part of what extends the audience of this book into middle school: it's all leggings and cute skirts and ballerina flats.
And one more thing: there's a spread in which Rubina chases her little sister around the living room, and we get a bird's eye view of the chase. No words on earth could do a better job of telling that story.