Children who linger over the cover of Lola M. Schaefer’s One Busy Day will see that they’re in for a grand adventure: A brother and sister sit outside. She’s wearing a crown, they’re in front of an elaborate sand castle, and behind the boy a dragon lingers. Toys are strewn everywhere. Clearly, the siblings have had a day of exhilarating play.
But readers will soon discover that this one busy day of play isn’t as simple as it might seem. On the opening endpapers, we see a series of vignettes in which the older boy is exasperated with his little sister, and on the title page it’s evident he doesn’t want her around. Once the text begins, we learn the sister is Mia, her big brother is Spencer, and he is always too busy to play with her. Instead of whining, she wanders off by herself and puts her abundant imagination to work. 'Attagirl.
Mia paints, dances, bakes and explores. In each instance, illustrator Jessica Meserve shows us what Mia is actually doing (making a mess with paints and water at a tiny card table) and what she sees in her mind’s eye (painting on a huge canvas in an exquisite room, complete with her own beret). Spencer draws ever nearer, not because she is begging him to join her, but because of the magnetism of her imaginative play. Eventually, they’re off on great adventures of the mind together—fighting dragons, finding treasures, climbing mountains and sailing the rough seas.
Meserve isn’t new to depicting sibling relationships with warmth and affection (see 2007’s poignant Small Sister). She communicates a great deal with body language, and these sprawling, richly colored spreads invite readers into the siblings’ heartfelt, rambunctious world of play.
After all, Mia may know how to take care of herself—as she should—but sometimes it’s just more fun with your big brother around.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.