April 4, 2012

Sheila Rae the Brave

Sheila Rae the Brave
By Kevin Henkes; illus. by author
3-4 Preschool Primary Greenwillow 32 pp.
978-0688071554 Hardcover $16.99

Sheila Rae is brave. She is fearless. She is truly bold and impressive, especially to her little sister, Louise. Then Sheila Rae decides to go home a new way, stepping on every crack and walking backwards with her eyes closed, until she finds herself very, very lost. Scared and humbled, Sheila Rae sits down and cries on a rock. Then Louise swings down from a tree, declaring that she can get them home. And she can. Mimicking her big sister, whom she had surreptitiously followed the whole way (the illustrations feature her peeking out from behind bushes, fire-hydrants and rocks making for a great opportunity to play Where's Louise), Louise growls at stray dogs and bares her teeth at stray cats and steps on every crack as Sheila Rae looks on. When they both arrive home, Sheila Rae tells Louise that she is very brave. Louise says they both are, and she's right.

Sheila Rae the Brave works on a lot of levels . For all her bravado, Sheila Rae is a sympathetic heroine, recognizable in her need to test and find her limits, but Louise is the real stand-out. The quintessential little sister, Louise looks up to Sheila Rae, a little timid and quite overshadowed by her dynamic older sibling. But Louise has enough inherent bravery of her own to follow her sister, even though the idea of a new route is scary. Along the way, she develops the confidence that allows her to lead them home. Both sisters learn something about themselves that afternoon, and the special thing is that it brings them closer together in the end, with Sheila Rae and Louise bravely walking backwards into the house.

The language in Sheila Rae the Brave is simpler than in some of Henkes's other mouse books (notably Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse). The lay-out, likewise, is a bit less busy, making it manageable for beginning readers. The illustrations are classic Henkes, with preternaturally expressive mice and lovely spring colors that bely the scariness of getting lost. This is a story that will appeal to both younger and older siblings, to the very brave and the slightly less so, as it illustrates the resilience and adaptability that is unique to the very young at a time when it's possible to realize that caution can be good or that you're much braver than you thought, over the course of a single walk home.

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