Book #172: Big Red Lollipop

Big Red Lollipop -- coverThis book is marvelous — marvelous! I’ve said many times that there is a paucity of books with truly excellent stories to tell, so I was excited to find this 2010 piece about sibling rivalry and forgiveness.  Here’s how the book opens.

I’m so excited I run all the way home from school.
“Ami! I’ve been invited to a birthday party! There’s going to be games and toys, cake and ice cream! Can I go?”
Sana screams, “I wanna go too!”
Ami says, “What’s a birthday party?”
“It’s when they celebrate the day they were born.”
“Why do they do that?”
“They just do! Can I go?”

Sounds like a straightforward setup, but look at how much you have going on already.  You’ve got an immigrant family, a mother that doesn’t understand why people would celebrate their birthdays, and a little sister who wants to tag along. Great, right?  The narrator’s mother forces her daughter, much to her horror, to take her little sister to the party.

The author takes great care in describing Sana’s babyish behavior at the party (she cries when she falls during musical chairs) as well as the contents of the goodie bags.  The older sister, Rubina, saves her huge lollipop for later, but the little one eats hers in the car.

Big Red Lollipop -- carseat


The thing that’s really galling is that Sana steals her older sister’s lollipop and eats that, too. You really feel the older sister’s rage. It’s bad enough that she had to take her little sister to the party, but the injustice of having her lollipop stolen and eaten is just too much. And to make matters worse, Rubina doesn’t get invited to parties for a long time afterward.

I think a lot of children would hope for the elder sister’s revenge in this story, but here’s where the author really distinguishes herself.  Time passes, and now it is Sana’s turn to be invited to a birthday party. Once again, Ami insists that Sana bring the third child, little Maryam, to the party:

Now it’s Sana’s turn to beg and plead. Ami won’t listen. Sana’s begging so hard she’s crying but still Ami won’t listen.

I could just watch her have to take Maryam. I could just let her make a fool of herself at that party. I could just let her not be invited to any more parties, but something makes me tap Ami on the shoulder.


“Don’t make Sana take Maryam to the party.”

“No?” says Ami.

“No,” I say.

Ami thinks for a moment, then she says, “Okay.”

So Sana gets to go by herself.

Parents tend to be so supportive and perfect in children’s books, and that’s just not always how it goes. In this story, there are clearly cultural misunderstandings, and Ami’s position, any child will tell you, just isn’t fair. Rubina knows this, and rather than sitting back smugly and watching history repeat itself, she takes the high road.  Rubina gets a reward for this, too, which really brings the story together at the end.

We’ve seen this author, Rukhsana Khan, in an earlier post. Sophie Blackall has illustrated quite a few stories, too, including an updated version of The Crows of Pearblossom, which I talked about here.

I love this book.  When I asked my son, who is six, how he felt about the story, he shrugged and said it was fine.  But I watched him carefully while I read it to him. His eyes were shining.  ABZ

Big Red Lollipop -- invitation


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