CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 25 . . . . March 10, 2017
Marjorie Cripps. Illustrated by Val Lawton.
Regina, SK: Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, 2016.
84 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.
Review by Karen Rankin.
Amanda trailed behind her brother, her eyes cast downwards to the hardwood floor.
Mitchell opened the door that led to the attic. "Come on Amanda. Let's go up."
"I'm scared, Mitchell."
"Oh come on. I was up there with Gram once." Mitchell carried his yellow flashlight.
The door creaked when Mitchell pushed it open. They stood looking up at the steep stairs, leading up, up, up forever into the dark.
"We'll get into trouble," Amanda whispered.
"Scaredy-cat," Mitchell said.
"Gram told us not to go up there!"
"They'll never know. They're all busy playing cards. I can hear them laughing downstairs."
Mitchell started to climb.
Amanda followed slowly, stopping halfway.
"Hurry up," Mitchell said at the top. "I want to show you something." He disappeared from view.
"What is it?" Amanda asked.
But her brother didn't answer.
Amanda crept up the stairs. A sticky cobweb touched her face. Yuck The air was thin and musty. The floor creaked.
"Boo!" Mitchell jumped in front of her.
Amanda put her hand over her mouth so she wouldn't scream.
Together they stood on the attic floor in the dim light from the small windows.
"It's so dark," Amanda whispered.
Mitchell shone the flashlight around until he found a light cord. He pulled it. The bare bulb cast shadows on the cluttered space.
"Gram's trunks are here!" Mitchell exclaimed.
"She must have more trunks than anyone else in the world," Amanda said. "Let's open one of them. Maybe there are treasures inside. Is this blue one locked?" She touched the one nearest her.
"I think I can open this rusty latch," Mitchell said.
Together Mitchell and Amanda pushed up the heavy, dusty lid.
"Just smelly old clothes," Mitchell said.
"I love old clothes!" Amanda said. "Come on. Let's play dress up."
Sibling Shenanigans consists of 10 stories – each one graced by one or two black and white illustrations – that are linked by at least one of the two siblings, Mitchell and Amanda. The main characters in the first two stories are not siblings; rather they are Mitchell and his friend, Spencer.
This evidently self-published book reads like a well-done first draft that should have spent far more time in the substantive editing phase before being published.
The book begins with "The Runaway Strollers". An omniscient narrator tells of a time when Spencer and Mitchell were being pushed by their respective mothers in their strollers to Speed River Park Farm. The strollers got away from both mothers when they sneezed. The boys shouted "Vroom! Vroom!" and then named and imitated animal calls, as per the following example:
"Cows!" Spencer said.
"Moo, moo," Mitchell said.
As the boys sped downhill, their mothers raced behind them shouting "WAIT! WAIT!" While there is some good repetition for a toddler's picture book, in the approximately 450 word story, there is only one accompanying picture, that being of two gleeful babies in their strollers.
The second story – "My Treehouse Bed" – is narrated by Mitchell, clearly no longer a baby. Spencer has a sleepover at Mitchell's house and is then never referred to again. Given the first two stories (and tone of some subsequent stories), it's difficult to determine the age of readers for Sibling Shenanigans.
Following is the end of "The Runaway Strollers" and the beginning of "My Treehouse Bed":
Mitchell's mom grabbed the handles of the yellow-and-red-striped stroller.
Spencer's mom grabbed the handles of the black-and-white-checked stroller.
The moms hugged their boys and everyone cheered.
"Wow, that was some race," Spencer's mom said.
"We thought we'd never catch up to you," Mitchell's mom said.
"Vroom, vroom," the boys said.
"My Treehouse Bed"
After supper Spencer came over with his knapsack full of stuff. His eyes popped open wide when he saw my new bed. "Mitch, you're the luckiest guy!"
We climbed up the ladder and tackled each other. Then we climbed down the ladder to my playhouse. Then we climbed back up the ladder with two trucks out of my playhouse.
Mitchell goes from being a toddler to a seven or eight-year-old over the span of the stories although, from the third story on, neither of the siblings seems to change. However, the narrator of the stories continues to change for no apparent reason. Some stories have a first person narrator, some a third person. These changes are disconcerting.
Further revision would have also dealt with niggling but detrimental inconsistencies in the development of a number of the stories' plots. In "The Christmas Quilt" – the fifth story, which uses an omniscient narrator – Grandma has mailed a special quilt to Mitchell and Amanda since she can't be with them for Christmas. An accompanying note says that the children should wish for what they want from Santa while they sleep under the quilt. After the children open the package and read Grandma's letter, they take the quilt up to Mitchell's room and
spread it over his double bed.
Mitchell touched the quilt. He thought, I wish Grandma could come for Christmas.
Mom called from downstairs, "Let's take Sparky out for a walk."
The children looked up from their puzzle. Where was Sparky? [And this reader thought, "Oh! They have a dog?"] They looked behind the sofa, under the dining room table and in the pantry. They ran downstairs to the basement.
Eventually they find Sparky in their room – where this reader assumed they must have been working on their puzzle with the dog in clear sight – wrecking the quilt. After Mitchell pulls thread and some scraps out of Mom's sewing supplies, Mom is able to fix the damage. That story ends as follows:
Mitchell woke up the next morning to the smell of baking cinnamon buns.
"It's CHRISTMAS," he shouted.
Amanda woke up.
Sparky woke up, too.
They all scampered downstairs to the living room.
"Grandma! Grandma! You're here!" Mitchell said, running to give her a big hug.
"I caught the last flight here last night and your dad met me at the airport. I think I might have even seen Santa fly by the plane!"
Amanda jumped for joy. "Oh, Grandma, you came! The quilt really is magic!"
With few exceptions, the characters in Sibling Shenanigans – from the children to Mom and Grandma – speak with virtually the same voice. Additionally, time and place are rarely mentioned at the beginning of a new story, leaving the reader discombobulated, as per the opening of "Barkley on Wheels", the story that follows "The Christmas Quilt":
I always looked forward to visiting Grandma at Summitcrest Lodge. I watched as she walked slowly towards us, leaning on her walker.
"This new hip is not nearly as good as my old one," Grandma said. She hobbled down the hallway back to her room and Amanda, Barkley and I walked beside her.
In Grandma's room, Barkley jumped from my lap and licked Grandma's hand. He had been Grandma's special Jack Russell terrier before she moved to Summitcrest Lodge. Now Barkley lived with me, Amanda, and Mom and Dad.
The siblings are typical, nice, well-behaved kids. They don't get up to any "shenanigans". And opportunities to ratchet up tension or develop character are lost. For instance, in "The Attic" (beginning excerpt), Amanda is sure that she and Mitchell will get into trouble for snooping through Grandma's old clothes and Mom's old toys. Even Mitchell is a little worried about making noise as the adults play cards down below. But the tension barely builds, and, when they're finally caught, Mom and Grandma's tone are indistinguishable from those of the children, as per the following:
"Amanda? Mitchell? Are you two up there?" [Mom] called from downstairs.
The kids looked at each other and crept over to the top of the stairs.
"See, they heard us," Amanda said.
Amanda peeked out from behind her big brother into the frowning faces of both Mom and Gram, who were at the bottom of the stairs.
"What are you kids up to?" Mom called up to them.
When she reached the top of the stairs and spotted Amanda dressed in the white lace dress and her old necklace, Gram smiled. "That's my wedding dress!" she said. "You look beautiful, Amanda."
"What a mess up here." Mom said.
Gram and Mom walked around the attic.
"Here's my poodle skirt!" Gram said. "I wore it to teen dances."
Then she picked the doll up and cradled it. "Barbara Ann Scott won the Olympics when I was a little girl," she added.
"Hey kids – you better pick up these marbles before someone falls," Mom said.
Mitchell and Amanda set to work.
"I used to love this Slinky," Mom said, picking it up.
"Yours is metal," Mitchell said. "Ours is only plastic."
Mom grabbed the hula hoop and showed off her skills. She jiggled it around her hips and tummy.
"Let me try," Mitchell said.
"Do you want my old Barbie, Amanda?" Mom wanted to know.
"No thanks," Amanda said. She looked at her brother.
Then they both looked at their mom.
"What we really want is your toy oven," they said at the same time.
"You mean the red Easy Bake oven?" Mom asked.
They ran over to Mom's old trunk.
"See, we're not in any trouble!" Mitchell said to Amanda.
"Mom! Mom, can we bake something in your oven right now? Please, please?" Amanda said.
"Of course you can. Let's take it downstairs."
Mitchell and Amanda turned to each other.
"YES!" they shouted.
"Magic Moonlight Dance", narrated by Amanda, includes a glossary of 10 of Gram's dolls from the Anne of Green Gables, to the Eaton Beauty, to the Shirley Temple, making this story and "The Attic" a fair little list of toys from the 1920's to the 1970's.
Marjorie Cripps' writing shows promise, but Sibling Shenanigans would be most suitable as a souvenir for the author's clearly beloved grandchildren, for whom it was likely originally intended. (In "About the Author", Ms. Cripps notes that "the children in her stories are now teenagers.")
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer of children's stories.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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