Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cobb, published by Macmillan Children's
Three weeks ago, our second daughter was born. In the run up to her arrival, and in the bleary-eyed days since, we've sought out a wide variety of books to read to our toddler that feature siblings - one of the ways we tried to prepare her for the tiny yet huge addition to her world.
Aunt Amelia has been a favourite for a long time (as are all of Rebecca Cobb's other wonderful creations, such as Lunchtime and The Paper Dolls, also reviewed on this site). It is a fun, bright and charming book, which wonderfully captures the nostalgic joy of childhood. It now has a new resonance and relevance as a picturebook that depicts a sibling relationship.
Written in the first person by a young boy and his little sister, it tells of a day and night full of pure delight, when their low expectations are most happily confounded. In the opening line they tell us that "we were in a bad mood" - their Mum and Dad are going out, and 'Aunt Amelia' is coming to look after them. They don't know who this is, but do know "we didn't want looking after". Worst of all, Mum and Dad have left a list of instructions for their mystery babysitter.
Little do they or their parents know, but Aunt Amelia - a matronly crocodile, with her a huge peach sunhat adorned by flora and fauna, equipped with a Mary Poppins-esque purse and umbrella - likes to bend, and even reverse, the rules!
The gorgeous tapestry of spreads that follow are accompanied by details from the list of strict instructions. Where mum and dad said "they can have an ice-cream, but just one" Aunt Amelia gives them each a cone with a dozen different flavours, flakes and wafers. With the command that "they help you with keeping the house clean and tidy" we see scenes of whole-room (and whole-face) painting extravaganzas, and a wild dressing up bonanza. Alongside the request that they eat a "sensible" dinner, we see them reveling in a child's dream feast of berries, cakes and pizza, while the order that they have just one story before bedtime is contravened with a pile of 20 books apiece.
In the morning, when it's nearly time for Mum and Dad to get home, the pair help Aunt Amelia get the house spick and span. "I hope they've been good?" asks mum. "Good as gold" Aunt Amelia replies, winning over the children as friends for life.