Children's books for soon-to-be big brothers and sisters

lilli-pilli's sister
lilli-pilli's sister 

Babies can be cute and cuddly, but their arrival can sometimes cause friction in families - especially with older siblings. Reading picture books that deal with such issues can help, while also fostering a life-long love of literature along the way.

The trauma sometimes caused by sibling expectations about the sex of the new arrival is sensitively dealt with in Lilli-Pilli's Sister (Walker Books, $24.95), written by Anna Branford and illustrated by Linda Catchlove.

Lilli-Pilli is keen to be a part of the preparations for the imminent birth of what she is convinced is her baby sister. Lilli-Pilli, a fairy, goes out into the bush to help collect things the much-anticipated baby will need - bark to make a crib, plus feathers, cocoons and nests to line it with. When she comes home, a delightful surprise awaits her in the form of not one but two babies. But does she get her longed-for little sister?

The brothers quibble
The brothers quibble 

Branford's text is very readable, with just the right amount of suspense. And mothers will no doubt sympathise with the mother fairy whose ''belly is so huge and round that, when she tries to fly, her feet hardly leave the ground''.

The bush setting for this story is distinctively Australian, while the European-style fairies have a funky '70s hippy vibe. The cuteness of Catchlove's fairy illustrations is nicely balanced by her naturalistic and detailed presentation of native flora and fauna. This is a very appealing tale for both older-siblings-to-be and those who love fairy folk.

Of course, once the new baby has arrived, sibling rivalry can often be a problem. In the aptly named The Brothers Quibble (Penguin, $24.99), Aaron Blabey employs his usual idiosyncratic, cheeky style to explore what can happen when an older sibling suddenly has to share toys, home and parents with another child.

Spalding Quibble is a rather obnoxious little boy who is used to ruling the roost. So when his parents introduce him to his new baby brother, he is neither impressed nor amused! Spalding spends a lot of time-out in his bedroom, as baby Bunny and his frazzled parents try to cope with Spalding's frustration and anger at having to share.

However, when Bunny finally becomes a toddler, his first word is ''Spalding''. And while he knows his big brother is often a bully and a pain, he's the only brother he's got, and he loves him very much.

Blabey's rhyming text gallops along, and he pulls no punches, showing just how fraught sibling relationships can become. His quirky illustrations - full of bug-eyed characters, semi-nudity and humorous visual asides - are sometimes confronting, sometimes off-putting and sometimes affectionate. This is a warts-and-all look at sibling rivalry that shows that, no matter how much of a rapscallion your brother might be, he's still your very best buddy.

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Once the new baby has arrived and its siblings have finally accepted that it is here to stay, it is time to introduce them to books that let them know just how special everyone thinks they are. Hey Baby! by Corinne Fenton (Black Dog, $18.95) takes a very simple but heartfelt text and combines it with clearly presented photographs of appealing baby animals.

The animals range from cute and cuddly monkeys, zebras and deer, to quaint but somewhat ugly hippos, reptiles and pigs. Fenton's message is clear: no matter what they look like, each child is unique, much loved and welcomed.

The book design is crisp and fresh, with lots of white space so that the animals stand out clearly on the page. This is a fitting book to present to a new member of the family.

hey baby!
hey baby! 

Other great books for babies

As they grow, babies need entertaining, and Baby Beats (Walker, $24.95) by Karen Blair is guaranteed to get little ones involved as they clap and stamp, beat and bang, tap and shake, strum and sing along with an enthusiastic group of toddlers.

Blair's text is rhythmic, infectious and onomatopoeic, while her gently engaging illustrations feature a charming mix of multicultural children, all celebrating the joy of moving to music of their own making. This book is sure to encourage much tapping of toes and enthusiastic cacophonies.

Babies also need to build up a library of their very own books, and Lucy Cousins' hugely popular Maisy books are a great place to start. Two new titles have just been released - one in the ''Maisy First Experiences'' series and the other in the ''Maisy First Science Book'' series.

Maisy Goes to the Cinema (Walker, $19.95) follows mouse Maisy and her friends as they go to the movies for the first time. In simple, highly accessible text, children are taken through Maisy's cinematic experiences - travelling to the theatre, choosing a film, buying tickets, popcorn and other treats, finding a seat, sitting in the dark, keeping quiet, going to the toilet, enjoying the movie, and talking about their shared experiences afterwards.

Cousins' illustrations of Maisy and her friends are very vibrant, with thick black outlining and strong colour values creating an interesting design dynamic. There is a lot to look at and identify in each image, and plenty of familiar animal characters.

Maisy's World of Animals (Walker, $19.95) has the added advantage of interactive tabs to pull and flaps to lift, as intrepid Maisy takes the reader on a journey around the world to find out which animals live in different geographical areas. These include Arctic tundra, mountains, deserts, savannahs, oceans and jungles.

Each double-page spread has a similar layout, with a panel on the far left encouraging children to identify the animals that are found in the accompanying picture, and to learn to read the words for them. With its large, clear text, bright, inviting images and interactive elements, this book both entertains and educates - a perfect combination in books for the very young.

Dr Reeder is an award-winning Canberra author, illustrator, editor and reviewer, whose latest picture book is Dance Like a Pirate (NLA Publishing).