I can’t imagine a better title for first-time author Marjorie Cripps’ collection of stories for young readers than what she’s chosen, Sibling Shenanigans. This fun and ably-written series of short tales features likeable siblings Amanda and Mitchell, who get along exceptionally well with each other, their parents, and their beloved Grandma. The senior’s a central character (and sometimes accomplice) in several of the ten pieces. Saskatchewan-born Cripps is a retired school librarian whose love of quilting is evident in many of the stories.
Using different styles – some stories are written in First Person, others in Third Person; some are realistic, others fantastic – and an upbeat tone, Cripps welcomes us into the active lives of young Amanda and Mitchell, beginning with the latter’s spectacular adventure in a “runaway stroller”. Cripps shares anecdotes about sleepovers, birthdays, Christmases, pet dogs, camping, and a family move from one side of Vancouver to the other.
I appreciated how easily the author’s pen swung between real life and fantasy, making both feel credible. In “Barkley on Wheels,” we learn that Grandma is living in a seniors’ complex, Summitcrest Lodge. “‘This new hip is not nearly as good as my old one,'” she says. Barkley is her dog, but the Jack Russell terrier has gone to live with Amanda and Mitchell’s family now. When the family takes him to the cottage, the dog zips around as happy dogs do, and a few days later the leash-free dog is struck by a car. There’s an interesting synchronicity between Grandma’s use of a walker and the dog’s new harness and two-wheeled cart that support its hindquarters. “‘If Barkley can keep rolling, so can I!'” Grandma says.
Anyone with a doll phobia might find the next story somewhat creepy. In “Magic Moonlight Dance,” Amanda sleeps over at Gram’s doll-filled house, and during the night the dolls – from Gram’s favourite, Celeste (circa 1890s) to Barbie and Ken, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, 1960s Chatty Cathy, and wooden Pinocchio – come alive to dance and play with the unfrightened girl.
Then it’s back to reality, with Gram taking the kids tenting: the thin foam mattress gives her bones a devil of a time, and it’s a three-store chore to find a better mattress in town. Rings true!
The final story concerns the imaginative children flying across Canada on Grandma’s magic quilt. They touch various squares on the quilt and voila: away they zoom. They spy a humpback whale in the Pacific, and “… the quilt dropped low enough for them to salute the Mountie in front of the Parliament Buildings.” At one point a lobster even attaches itself to the quilt.
The book is minimally illustrated with black and white drawings by veteran book illustrator Val Lawton, from Calgary. Once a child has graduated from picture books, this would be a great early reader – with or without a parent or grandparent snuggled up to listen. The author can be proud of her first title. Hopefully there are more to come.
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