Whatever happened to my sister?

posted in: Simona Ciraolo | 6

sisterWhilst books about changes in family dynamics and how you as a child might feel when you find out you’re about to become a big sister are not hard to find, Whatever happened to my sister? by Simona Ciraolo is the first picture book I’ve ever come across which explores the sisterly dynamic at a later and equally crucial time; what happens when your older sister no longer wants to play with you, but instead is more interested in music and boys and clothes?

Whatever happened to my sister? is an observant, compassionate and sensitive portrayal of how a younger sister can feel as she sees her big sister grow up and grow apart, leaving behind the shared childhood games and mischief the sisters once shared.

Ciaolo gently witnesses the sadness mixed with hope and the confusion mixed with loyalty as a younger sister tries to understand why her big sister no longer wants to hang out with her. But just as the younger sister bursts into tears at the horribleness of it all, who should step up to give her a hug and reassure her that some things never change? The comforting ending reminds us that whilst at times big sisters may seem strange and distant, in the end they’ll always be there for you.

This rare take on sisterly relations is poignant and honest. The big emotions are contained by muted and calm illustrations made with a limited palette, at times reminding me of the graceful style of Komako Sakai. Greys predominate at times of sadness and confusion, whilst oranges and reds come to the fore when things take a happier turn.

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A small personal frustration with the portrayal of he father as someone who doesn’t get involved in emotional life of his daughters aside (he would rather sit behind his newspaper and keep out of it all), Whatever happened to my sister? is moving, beautiful and reassuring. It’s a book I’m very happy the two sisters I’m bringing up now have as part of their home library.

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Having read Whatever happened to my sister? together, we decided to celebrate M and J’s sisterhood by creating a photo album of the fun and games they’ve got up to together over the years. I trawled through all our photos of them since J (the younger sister) was born, selected a good few and then printed them and stuck them in an album in age order.

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In a day and age where nearly all our photos remain digital-only, this time-lapse book delighted not only me as their mum, but also the two girls as they relived many happy memories.

They customised the front of the album:

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They then went through adding comments or speech bubbles to various photos.

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I think we’ve created a lovely keep-sake here, documenting their first 7 years of sisterhood. Hopefully, if and when things get tough between them, they’ll remember both Ciraolo’s lovely book and this photo album, and together they’ll be little lights of hope for better times.

Whilst creating and customising their photo album M and J listened to:

  • Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves – Aretha Franklin duetting with Eurythmics
  • Oh No, I Like My Sister by Barry Louis Polisar
  • Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirvana…

  • Other activities which might work well alongside reading this book include:

  • Reading the graphic novel Sisters by Raina Telgemeier. An autobiographical exploration of sisterhood! My 7 and 10 year old sisters have enjoyed both this and Ciraolo’s book a great deal.
  • Exploring “the best sisters in children’s books” – an article from the Guardian’s Book Doctor.
  • Blinging up your big sister’s headphones – this could be a fun birthday present for a younger sister to make for an older sister.

  • If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:

  • Welcome to the family by Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith, with an idea for a set of family puppets.
  • What makes us happy? With a home-made lift-the-flap book using family photos and reminding us of what cheers us up.
  • familyphotos

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    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

    6 Responses

      • Zoe

        Hi Catherine, go for it! I have to say getting the album ready for my girls took a bit of effort on my behalf – choosing the photos first (seven years of digital photos to go through!) and then sticking them in, but it’s been worth it all, so I can only encourage you to make the leap!
        Zoe recently posted..Whatever happened to my sister?

    1. Helen

      How fantastic to flip the usual sibling theme on its head – love it. I need one with a big brother now!

      • Zoe

        Oh yes, Helen, a book for brothers exploring their emotions would be terrific – and also extremely unusual.

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