My sister, Beatrice, never listens.
When I'm in a hurry, I say, "Bea, be quick."
But she's a sloth.
She never listens.
I wish she'd just be quiet.
I wish she'd just behave.
I shut my eyes and show my claws.
Now I'm a lion.
I roar, "Bea, BE GONE!"
When I open my eyes, Beatrice is gone.
I look in the bedroom.
But she's not there.
Every older sibling can relate to the unnamed narrator in Winters' story. Younger sister Beatrice is an unpredictable, chaotic handful, mischievous and quirky in the tradition of Ramona Quimby. She does not respect the remonstrances of her older sister, ruins her creative play, snatches away a beloved pet, and never, ever listens.
The elder sibling's temper finally boils over. The next spread depicts her howling with her mouth wide-open, like a lion with her claws out and roaring at her sister. Suddenly, Bea is gone. Everything is stale and flat without Bea, as can only be expected. Building and toppling a tower by oneself loses much of its destructive fun. The author now gets to monopolize her beloved Kitty, but Kitty looks at her askance. There is no one to squeak, boing, or thhhhp with. What to do?
The narrative economy of Winters' tale takes nothing away from representing the emotional range of an older sibling and the simultaneously frustrating and fun relationship she has with her younger sibling. The first-person text is spare, honest, and genuine in expressing exasperation, boredom, and begrudging acceptance. The reader can easily sympathize with the older sister when her mother asks her to locate Bea at dinnertime. "How can I tell Mom I wished my sister away?" she agonizes.
Iranian-Canadian illustrator Nahid Kazemi captures the siblings in a deceptively naive and figurative style. Despite Kazemi’s using a colourful palette, the tones seem more subdued due to the generous use of grey shading in each spread. Both sisters have dark hair, Bea's straight and in pigtails, the older sister's loose and curly. They both wear pinafore dresses, Bea's red to match her vibrant personality, the older sister's blue (with a red t-shirt underneath). Kazemi portrays the cluttered wonderland of toys and other childhood paraphernalia in equal parts slapdash energy and loving detail, while the outbursts of the older sister, mouth hinged wide and hands clenched, generates her kinetic rage at Bea with comic effect. Young readers may also enjoy finding Kitty in nearly every spread, sometimes with a second, larger grey cat in attendance.
Just Bea would make for a lively read-aloud and may also lead to thoughtful discussions on how to deal with sibling discord. While it may not break into any new territory in children's picture books, Just Bea makes a welcome addition to the library or household shelf.
Ellen Wu is a collections services librarian with Surrey Libraries and resides in Vancouver, British Columbia.