Perfect Picture Book Friday – Me First

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

me_firstTitle: Me First

Author/Illustrator: Max Kornell

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen/Penguin

Year: 2014

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 6-8

Themes: Siblings; competition


Hal was Martha’s older brother.

“Did you know,” he told Martha, “that I used to play checkers with Dad before you were even born?”

Martha didn’t mind that Hal was older or that he talked about it all the time. It made beating him more fun.

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) If there’s one thing siblings Hal and Martha can agree on, it’s this: It is important to be first! But what happens when being first is suddenly not so much fun? Competing to explore a new route home one day, Hal and Martha discover that sometimes having a brother or sister right beside you is even better than being one step ahead of them.

What makes it great: The author does a great job portraying the two siblings. We don’t feel that either one is in the “right,” and neither dominates the storyline. That makes the book appealing to both younger and older sibling readers.

What readers notice: As much as my kids enjoy fantastical picture book and magical realism, there’s a lot to be said for true-to-life characters in familiar true-to-life situations. No one is flying to the moon or consorting with magical animals in this book. OK, the characters are donkeys, but they sound and act like real kids, and that holds strong appeal for both my 5 and 9-year-olds.

What a writer notices: I love the reversals that happen in this book. Hal and Martha go from each trying to be first, to allowing the other to go first. Meanwhile their parents get into a little argument about who first noticed how nicely Hal and Martha are now treating each other. The full circle ending, with Hal and Martha starting a new game of checkers, and wondering who should go first, is perfect.


Many kids have a ‘me first’ approach to life. Here are some helpful resources to help teach and practice turn-taking.


19 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday – Me First

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    Nothing like healthy sibling (donkey) competition to help kids learn how to get along. Love how the story comes full circle. Kinda shows how observant kids are. Great read for kids and parents.

    • Carrie Finison says:

      Yes, I was thinking more today about why donkeys particularly. Maybe because they are known for being stubborn? It would be interesting to ask the author about that choice. I think it works really well.

      • Max Kornell says:

        Hi Carrie. I just happened upon this message board and I have an answer to your question, thought not a great one. I wish I could say I thought about it deeply enough to choose donkeys for their stubborness, but the truth is I wanted animals that were not too cute and kind of old-fashioned. For some reason that meant donkeys to me. Plus I’m a huge William Steig fan and I think Sylvester was hanging out in the back of my mind at the time (if you look closely at Hal and Martha’s couch and Sylvester’s, you’ll see that they to shop at the same donkey furniture store.) Thanks for the review!

    • Carrie Finison says:

      I wonder too, Julie. Sometimes I think kids with just one sibling engage in competition more than large families, where they’re just ‘one of the herd’ — but that might just be my (mis)perception.

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