Real Sisters Pretend
By Megan Dowd Lambert
Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
9 x 10, 32 pages, color illustrations
- A CCBC Choices 2017 title
- A CSMCL Best Books of 2016 title
- A Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2017
This warm, engaging story, which unfolds entirely through the conversation of two adopted sisters, was inspired by the author’s own daughters, whom she overheard talking about how adoption made them “real sisters” even though they have different birth parents and do not look alike. “I liked how they took care of one another in their pretend-play scenario about climbing a mountain,” Lambert says, “and I loved how they also took care of one another’s feelings as they talked about adoption.” Real Sisters Pretend captures these interactions perfectly and movingly.
Here’s a link to an
essay I wrote for Embrace Race that shares how two of my daughters inspired this book: Real Sisters and Brothers. It includes this photo from our book launch, where my daughters signed copies alongside me and illustrator Nicole Tadgell.
Praise for Real Sisters Pretend:
Many thanks to everyone at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for including Real Sisters Pretend on their CCBC Choices 2017 list. It’s under the heading “Understanding Oneself and Others,” and I am thrilled to see it alongside some remarkable titles from 2016.
I am delighted to announce that the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature has included Real Sisters Pretend on its CSMCL Best Books of 2016. What an honor to have our picture book included with these other wonderful titles!
“Where was Real Sisters Pretend when I was growing up as an adoptee? This heartfelt and loving story is essential for those in the adoption community. It’s a positive reinforcement of the simple truth that people can look different and still be a family unit. A must-have picture book, especially in today’s world of varying family structures.” —Chris Soentpiet, illustrator of Jin Woo, Amazing Faces, My Brother Martin, and other books for young readers
“In her author’s note, Lambert describes how closely this story parallels the experience of her own adopted daughters. She was inspired to write it after overhearing how baffled they were by a stranger asking if they were “real sisters.” Tadgell’s lively watercolors depict Tayja, an African American girl of about seven, and Mia, a white preschooler with curly dark hair, who laugh at the absurdity of such a question. As they play, they imagine themselves as hiking princesses climbing up and down mountains, but when Mia says, “Let’s pretend we are sisters,” Tayja says, “No, Mia, we don’t have to pretend that. We are sisters. Real sisters.” Mia happily recalls how Tayja welcomed her to the family and shared her stuffed lion. They both relive how the judge let them bang his gavel when Mia’s adoption was finalized, and concluded that they understood about adoption. Their happy faces and whimsical game of make-believe will engage young readers, and children who live in families touched by adoption will likely find the underlying message positive and affirming. Revealed in the last few pages is yet another way this family could be considered different—there are two mothers. Momma’s reaction to the woman in the grocery store who asks if they are “real” sisters is a simple, direct statement: “Of course they are!” The girls are secure in their knowledge that they are part of a real, loving family with both Momma and Mommy. VERDICT This is an appealing story, recommended for general purchase, especially where Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mother’s House and Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three are popular.—Deborah Vose, Highlands Elementary School, Braintree, MA, School Library Journal
“Tayja and Mia may enjoy pretending to be “hiking princesses” who must scale the mountains of the family sofa, but as older sister Tayja makes clear, there’s nothing pretend about them being sisters, even though they don’t look alike (Tayja has brown skin, Mia white). “We are sisters,” she says, staring into Mia’s eyes. “Real sisters.” In an extended dialogue between the girls, Lambert (A Crow of His Own) highlights the small but important conversations that happen among siblings trying to understand their place in the world and within their families. Tadgell (Friends for Freedom) emphasizes the girls’ closeness in warm watercolor-and-pencil vignettes that show them talking about being adopted by two mothers (one is white, the other of Asian background) while playing with their stuffed toy lion, having a snack, and generally hanging all over each other. The sisters also talk frankly about the fact that “some people” don’t instinctively see them as a family, remembering a recent grocery store encounter. Though the story is somewhat message-heavy, it’s still a useful reminder of the varied ways families can take shape. Ages 4–7.” Publisher’s Weekly
“In this joyful story, two adopted girls climb imaginary mountains together as they play, forging a life-long sisterhood. What an apt metaphor, given that non-traditional families scale mountains, big and small, daily. Real Sisters Pretend empowers adopted children to find belonging and strength in the loving nests of new siblings and unique families.” —Anne Brennan Belden, M.Sc. (Human Development/Family Relations), Adoption and Parenting Coach, adoptive mom
“Modern families can look very different from the nuclear families of yesteryear, but no matter how a family comes to be, the most important thing is for everyone to feel loved, safe, and cared for. Real Sisters Pretend is a great vehicle for sharing that love and reassurance.” – Children’s Book Council
“[P]ure joy in togetherness…in the watercolor illustrations.” Kirkus Reviews
I’m so pleased to share this National Adoption Month review from Mombian, excerpted here:
“I love seeing this tale of siblings. So many books about children with same-sex parents focus on the relationship of a child to the parents—important, to be sure, but hardly the whole picture of what family can mean. The illustrations by Nicole Tadgell further convey the loving and fun relationship between the sisters…Kudos to Lambert for giving voice to at least one of those stories. Real Sisters Pretend is an obvious recommendation for many adoptive families—but also for any families hoping to share with their kids the many ways that families may form.”
Many thanks to Charnaie of Here Wee Read for this thoughtful write-up about Real Sisters Pretend. She is not an adoptive mom, and I so appreciate how she embraces our picture book as one that can be both instructive about family diversity and also enjoyable in its depiction of sibling play. She writes:
“I think this book can can open the door to initiate discussion about adoption and non-traditional families. I’m not sure what age children usually start comprehending concepts like adoption, but I think this book would be great to initiate discussion with kids ages 5 and up. I think it’s a cute book for all kids, not just kids from adoptive families. A very sweet story about how families don’t always have to look alike to have love.”
Thanks to bookseller, blogger, and one of my favorite book-people to follow on Twitter, Alia Jones, for this lovely write-up at Read It Real Good, which I’ve excerpted here:
“I like the way Megan Dowd Lambert and Nicole Tadgell craft the story and illustrations to create a conversation…Readers will enjoy Tadgell’s beautiful watercolor illustrations; she brings these girls, their sweet relationship and loving family to life. When I first saw the cover of this book months ago, I was drawn to the image of two brown girls embracing; it’s powerful! Real Sisters Pretend is a lovely and important book that can help adopted children make sense of people who “just don’t get” what they naturally understand. . I think any child with siblings or cousins will connect to Mia and Tayja.”
Take a look at this wonderful interview “Illustrating Love” by Terry Farish with illustrator Nicole Tadgell. It includes several examples of process work, including these sketches: