Book Review: Sibling Rivalry, Donkey Style

By Ronna Mandel

Me First Book CoverAs the father of four, L.A. author and illustrator Max Kornell is no stranger to the sounds of sibling rivalry. “Me First” (Nancy Paulsen Books, ages 5-8), his latest picture book, explores this common family dynamic courtesy of two young donkeys, Hal and his younger sister Martha.

The book begins with Hal and Martha ready for a game of checkers. Who will start? Both children shout, “Me first!” And so it goes throughout this irresistible read-aloud story that will remind parents of their own kids. I can hear children everywhere repeating “I let you win,” just as Hal does when his sister beats him at checkers. If they’re not squabbling over a game, they’re bickering over who thought of an idea first.

Kornell’s skillful pairing of prose and illustration brings the siblings’ constant contest to life. Who knew the simple curve of a donkey’s mouth or the subtle placing of hooves on hips could say so much?

Hoping for a break from all the arguing, donkey Mom and Dad take the kids for a picnic at the river. But whatever activity the siblings engage in, one or the other must proclaim “First.” Only when Hal and Martha take a new path home from the river, without their parents, do the siblings put aside their quarreling. Martha spits out a horrible tasting berry. Hal gets covered in cobwebs. When the kids encounter one particularly dangerous situation at the creek, Hal and Martha realize that they actually need each other and finally forge a more cooperative relationship – Us together!

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