30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Six: Big Sister, Little Sister

by LeUyen Pham

Hyperion Books, 2005

big-sister coverThe Big one gets new clothes. The Little one gets hand-me-downs. The Big one does everything first. The Little one is always catching up. But the little one can do some things well, and can even teach the older one a thing or two . Big sisters and little sisters alike will agree: this is a sassy and touching celebration of sisterhood for all ages.–publisher’s comments.

I cannot speak for my Little Sister (since she’s now a grown up), but as a Big Sister, I can attest to the fact that LeUyen Pham’s Big Sister, Little Sister is a “sassy and touching celebration of sisterhood.” And while the picture book really captures sister-sibling dynamics, there is also a sense of that these are individual characters. Much of this conflation is found in how Pham is able to evoke so much personality in her characters. You have the scenarios: new clothes/hand-me-downs; later/earlier bedtimes; not afraid of the dark/afraid; etc. But within each scenario, we get a distinction that is not necessarily age. The characters are Big Sister and Little Sister. Little Sister (“I”) narrates. The move to allow for that distinction between representational and ‘autobiographical’ (which I’m not assuming is necessarily conscious), keeps the reader engaged even when a scenario/role does not fit their own experiences or observations.   It also allows for the book can be read by anyone, as it should–be read by anyone.



I know of LeUyen Pham first as Illustrator of Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho series, Julianne Moore’s Strawberry Freckleface and Kelly DiPucchio’s Grace, but in Big Sister, Little Sister she proves to do just as well with the text side of storytelling. That said, the text provides the context, or declares the theme found within the group of illustrations.  The illustrations are not paneled-off like a comic, nor do they rely upon a sequential reading, yet the lay-out hosts a sensibility that works toward the timing of just as consciously placed text. For example, reading the book to myself, I followed the winding left to right images top to bottom on each page and observed the text where it lay on the page and found my humor for the ‘scene/theme’ tuned to a well-designed punctuation; Little Sister may not be able to yet know some of the things Big Sister does, but there are things she can teach her Big Sister.


In the end, one does not come across as more superior than the other, each role is what it is and has value. Pham is successful in relaying the idea, too, that one wouldn’t be Big, if there were not a Little, and vice versa.  They make each other wonderful and weird and bring with it all the bitter-sweetness that sisterhood can bring. Remember how the book is described as a “celebration;” this is key, because Pham does not make any overt didactic shift in tone or text. For those of you who seek out picture books for their educational value over proposed entertainment, she doesn’t have to devise those moments.* Stories can do both and Pham demonstrates how this is done.

Here is where I admit that I just flat-out adore Pham’s work. I like her decisions on color and texture. Her figures are fun; the right touch of real without anchoring them too heavily to the page. There is an economy in those black lines that provides not only for that weightlessness, but a straightforward narrative: this is who the character is. And, seriously, the breadth in which Pham renders those the highly expressive postures of the body and face is impressive. It appears effortless, and possibly goes unnoticed (as it probably should for the sake of story), but I’m beginning to notice. Pham’s work as an author and illustrator is worth following. If unfamiliar, you can continue on from here (see links below).


recommendations… I do think that you needn’t have a big or little sister (even close cousin) to enjoy this picture book. I also agree with C. Reid’s (Elliot Bay Book Company) review:

“LeUyen’s Japanese brush pen-and-ink illustrations are the life behind this beautiful picture book about herself and her sister LeChi. It illustrates the importance each sister holds for the other and how their special quirks and skills accentuate one another. […] And while LeUyen may be a little jealous of LeChi, she knows that her role as the little sister is just as important as her older sister’s role. This book should be required reading for all girls who have a sister. “


PBMLOGO-COLOR_HIGHRES-300x300*a brief digression: do you think some children come to hate children despite endless hours at an adults knee w/ picture books because they are always turned into lectures on behavior? (whether by book or adult.) we are fans of the lengthy post-book conversations in our house, but I’m thinking back to N’s earliest childhood: did I say anything in the facsimile of: “I love that this book made me laugh, let’s read it again” or “I just adore this artwork (even after the gazillionth time with this book)” and did I say it enough.  I’m thinking of Ms. Salley’s wisdom the other day, that a love of reading comes from feeling joy in the experience of books; reading something silly or sweet and allowing oneself the pleasure those senses elicit. How/why do you choose the picture books we do for a child? What’s its first requirement?


LeUyen Pham is a favorite Illustrator of mine. see spotlight: pt one & two. also be sure to check out her page.

{all images belong to LeUyen Pham}

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

2 thoughts on “sisters

  1. I read All the Things I Love About You by LeUyen Pham today, and I really like her illustrations. I would love to read Big Sister, Little Sister, my daughter would enjoy the book.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: