cover image Oh, Brother!

Oh, Brother!

Nikki Grimes, , illus. by Mike Benny. . Greenwillow, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-688-17294-7

Snappy language and varied rhyme schemes energize Grimes's (Talkin' About Bessie ) verses describing step-sibling rivalry in a newly blended, interracial family. After his mom's wedding, Xavier bemoans his circumstances: “Everyone in this house/ is a step, now./ Stepmom./ Stepdad... / In my mind,/ I turn them into steps/ I can climb./ And when I reach/ the top,/ I rule.” Benny (America's White Table ) intersperses surreal illustrations with more realistic scenes; those that vivify Xavier's imaginary life are more compelling (instead of showing steps, he displays the rest of the family as figures at Mount Rushmore, with the life-size narrator scaling the representation of his stepfather). Throughout, the illustrator favors outsize characters with enormous eyes and mouths, exaggerating Xavier's shifting emotions (and taking advantage of the book's large trim size). The stylized characters also complement the humor and the deft poetic shifts as Grimes traces Xavier's tumultuous route to friendship with his new stepbrother, Chris (“I'm sick of Mr. Perfect!/ Just be a normal kid!” he explodes, only to be moved by Chris's response: “ 'Unless I'm perfect,' whispers Chris,/ 'my dad might go away./ Normal wasn't good enough/ to make my mama stay' ”). Although the story arc is predictable (guess who has a baby?), the art and poems capture and memorably convey a range of emotions. Ages 5-10. (Jan.)