I started this week writing about the importance of birthday parties (a big, big deal for little kids) and I think I’ll end the week by spotlighting another gem of a picture book with a birthday party in the story. The plot in Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, features a birthday party, but the story, itself, is about so much more. The narrator is a young girl named Rubina, who is excited because she’s been invited to her first birthday party. Khan doesn’t explicitly state that Rubina and her family are immigrants, but there are obvious clues in the text and illustrations. It’s clear that Rubina’s family is still learning about American customs (though Rubina, as the oldest child, is far more aware of what’s expected in her new country than her mother and her younger siblings).
In fact, Rubina is mortified when her mother makes her take her younger sister, Sana, to the birthday party (“But Ami! They’ll laugh at me! They’ll never invite me to another party again!”). At the party, Sana embarrasses Rubina by being overly competitive and crying during a game of musical chairs. When the party ends, Rubina is surprised and delighted by another American tradition—the bestowing of goody bags. Here, we see the difference in the two sisters’ personalities. While Sana eats the big red lollipop in her bag right away and breaks the little toys, Rubina saves her lollipop for the next day (“All night I dream about how good it will taste”). The next morning, she’s horrified and furious to find that Sana has eaten her lollipop as well. (Blackall’s illustration, an aerial view of Rubina chasing her bratty little sister around the house, is just marvelous.) To make matters worse, it’s a long time before Rubina is invited to a birthday party again because now all the girls at her school know that her little sister will have to tag along. Then one day, the tables turn and Sana is invited to a birthday party. Their mother is about to make Sana bring her sisters along too when Rubina does something selfless. She convinces her mom to let Sana go to the party by herself. And in the end, the sisters grow closer together.
Kids don’t have to be part of an immigrant family to fall under the spell of Big Red Lollipop. Wanting to fit in, grappling with pesky siblings, and struggling to do the right thing are universal childhood experiences. The fact that Rubina’s family is from a different culture only makes the story richer and it offers an inclusive view of the world. If you haven’t seen this book, do take a look. Kudos to Khan and Blackall for a beautiful book with characters and dilemmas that resonate with siblings everywhere!
Are you familiar with this book? Can you suggest others that illuminate sibling issues?