cover image Me First

Me First

Max Kornell. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-15997-8

Kornell looks at how cutthroat competition and bragging rights can define a sibling relationship, using the same quiet incisiveness and narrative restraint that made his debut, Bear with Me, so impressive. Hal and his younger sister, Martha, are donkeys who can’t stop trying to outdo one another. When Hal declares, “Race you to Gopher’s Rock!” and wins, Martha simply heads to a nearby tree stump and declares herself the winner of that race instead. Unlike many fictional younger sisters, Martha is no needy shrinking violet; when Hal challenges her, “it made beating him more fun.” When the siblings take a new path home from a family outing and learn that being first isn’t always a good thing, their one-upmanship is quickly replaced with empathy and collaboration. They also realize where their relentless competitive spirit comes from (we’re looking at you, Mom and Dad). Emphatic ink lines and rich earth tones make this book particularly handsome and underscore the intensity of the protagonists’ deep-seated, single-minded drive to triumph—first independently, and then together. Ages 5–8. (May)