Play Stuff Blog

Oh Brother! Oh Sister!  

Mothers get their day in May. Fathers are feted in June. And what about sisters and brothers? Their turn comes on April 10—Siblings Day. Siblings Day hasn’t earned recognition as a federal holiday (yet), but since 1998, governors have proclaimed Siblings Day in 49 states. From experience and observation, I know that sibling relationships can take any number of different configurations. And that made me think about the famous siblings that come readily to mind from the world of toys, dolls, and games.

1920: Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy Author Johnny Gruelle published the first Raggedy Ann book in 1918, but it took two more years for Raggedy Ann’s brother to show up in 1920’s Raggedy Andy Stories. Ever since then, the duo has been pretty much inseparable, linked by their bright red hair, their sunny dispositions, and the untold millions of cloth dolls that have been produced in their images.

1964: Barbie and Skipper The age difference between siblings often has a huge impact. When Barbie made her debut in 1959, she was a teenage fashion model without any family to constrain her glamorous lifestyle. It took until 1964 for Barbie’s younger sister Skipper to show up on toy shelves. Judging from the height difference between Barbie and her little sister, I’d guess that Skipper was in her tween or early teen years at that point. Gradually over the years Skipper has grown in height and matured in her appearance, almost catching up with Barbie—something that numerous younger siblings have dreamed of accomplishing.  

1964: Brother Bear and Sister Bear In 1962 when Stan and Jan Berenstain published The Big Honey Hunt, the first of what would go on to become more than 200 books about the Berenstain Bears, the ursine family consisted of Papa, Mama, and Small Bear. It wasn’t until Sister Bear arrived in 1974 that Small Bear earned the status of Brother Bear. Through more than 250 million copies of Berenstain Bears books and hundreds of related toys, games, and other playthings, Sister and Brother have represented how the sister and brother dynamic works to multiple generations of kids (and the adults who read the books to their children as bedtime stories).

1983: Mario and Luigi The role of younger sibling can be tough. Nintendo introduced plumber siblings Mario and Luigi in the arcade game Mario Bros. So not only is Luigi younger, but he doesn’t even get his name in the title. Over the next three decades, Mario became a worldwide gaming icon and starred in more than 100 games. Poor Luigi only managed to claim six games as his own, and in one of them, Mario is Missing (1992), his brother still manages to steal the title!  

1989: Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson After a two-year run as a series of animated shorts on The Tracy Ullman Show, the amazingly yellow and lovingly dysfunctional Simpsons family earned its own television series starting in 1989. Over what has stretched into decades, brainy Lisa and bratty Bart have maintained their amiably prickly relationship while baby Maggie tends to float serenely above the fray, sucking happily on her pacifier.

I’m guessing that if you have a sibling (or more than one), elements of the relationships of Raggedy Ann and Andy, Barbie and Skipper, Brother and Sister Bear, Mario and Luigi, or Bart, Lisa, and Maggie ring true for what you’ve lived through. So for all of you sisters and brothers out there—people or playthings—happy Siblings Day!