Me First


Max Kornell’s relatable tale of sibling rivalry will charm readers and make them laugh with a brother and sister’s constant attempts to outdo each other.
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 ...

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Max Kornell’s relatable tale of sibling rivalry will charm readers and make them laugh with a brother and sister’s constant attempts to outdo each other.
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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kornell looks at how cutthroat competition and bragging rights can define a sibling relationship, using the same quiet incisiveness and narrative restraint that made his debut, Bear with Me, so impressive. Hal and his younger sister, Martha, are donkeys who can’t stop trying to outdo one another. When Hal declares, “Race you to Gopher’s Rock!” and wins, Martha simply heads to a nearby tree stump and declares herself the winner of that race instead. Unlike many fictional younger sisters, Martha is no needy shrinking violet; when Hal challenges her, “it made beating him more fun.” When the siblings take a new path home from a family outing and learn that being first isn’t always a good thing, their one-upmanship is quickly replaced with empathy and collaboration. They also realize where their relentless competitive spirit comes from (we’re looking at you, Mom and Dad). Emphatic ink lines and rich earth tones make this book particularly handsome and underscore the intensity of the protagonists’ deep-seated, single-minded drive to triumph—first independently, and then together. Ages 5–8. Agent: Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties. (May)
The Horn Book
“Kornell’s acrylic ink drawings burst with color. Martha, Hal, and their parents are depicted as very expressive donkeys; William Steig’s Sylvester and his folks are a good comparison. The messages here about sibling rivalry come minus any heavy-handedness.”
“Hal and Martha quarrel the way that older brothers and younger sisters do. . . . The playful figures brim with personality as they argue and cavort in a setting of lush, full-bleed, earth-tone landscapes, all of it captured in Kornell’s jaunty, saturated ink drawings. With a tender story and appealing aesthetic, this outing will easily win over storytime audiences.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"A refreshing twist on the typical sibling-rivalry plot that works to good effect; the shift between the sibs is largely inferred, but it is this quiet transformation that lends meaning. The story’s warmth is effectively balanced by the illustrations’ acrylic washes. . . . This may prove just the story for approaching the topic of sibling competition in a family, but it will draw plenty of viewers for its balance of humor and poignancy alone."
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2—Hal and his younger sister Martha are constantly trying to outdo each other. They squabble over who will be the first to pack their bags for a picnic, jump in the river, and build the highest rock tower. But the siblings change their ways after taking a new path home filled with many unpleasant "firsts " that force them to help each other rather than compete. Set in the countryside with rolling green hills and brown cottages, the donkey characters dress in human clothing. The old-fashioned illustrations are appropriate for this fable-like tale. It takes place over the course of a single day, and the artwork helps readers transition from the sunny summer morning to the shady twilight of evening. The full-page paintings alternate with smaller ones set against ample white space providing visual variety. The composition and line work of the acrylic ink is excellent, and the straightforward text is a combination of narrative and dialogue with the occasional use of speech bubbles that serves the sequential story well. The large trim size, boldly outlined illustrations, and easily readable text make this a good choice for group sharing. This story of sibling rivalry will have broad appeal, especially for parents looking to emphasize the importance of teamwork.—Amy Seto Musser, Denver Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Being first is only fun—if it can be called fun—when it doesn't entail learning the rude consequences of the unknown. Kornell's two donkeys go by the names of Hal and Martha. As brother and sister, they enjoy a good game of one-upmanship. In this case, it's a relentless, barely bearable, simmering war. They live in a gloriously bucolic setting, as evocative as a woodblock print burnished with the light of sunset, but their competition carries on, even while on a picnic. On a walk home, they take a new route and encounter many new circumstances. Martha races to try the berries first. Yuck! Hal climbs through the hollow log before Martha can and emerges coated in cobwebs for his efforts. Martha jumps on the log bridge spanning a stream and goes for an unexpected swim, in her clothes, when it breaks. There's nothing quite like learning a lesson the hard way, not to mention that the air is perfumed by their silence as the lesson seeps in. Kornell can't be said to have exactly a light touch—the message is as subtle as the taste of cobwebs—but if it teaches just one reader not to need to always go one better, it's brought peace to one small sliver of Earth. As soothing on the eyes as it is, potentially, on the nerves. (Picture book. 4-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399159978
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
  • Publication date: 5/15/2014
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 587,491
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Max Kornell ( also wrote and illustrated Bear With Me, winner of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Award. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, his drawings have appeared in newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and on birthday and thank-you cards to his friends and family. In addition to writing and drawing, he also teaches at a progressive elementary school in Santa Monica. He lives with his wife and four children in Los Angeles.

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