More information than you need to know about me, but I’ve been dreaming of babies lately. A lot. It’s probably because, at age 46, I know that (very most likely) I won’t be having any more. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to these three new children’s books about wee ones. But I also know, without question, that I’m also drawn to them because they’re well-crafted, entertaining books for the toddlers in my world. And yours, too.
You and Me is a poem that sees new life this year. Written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, it first appeared in Climb into My Lap: First Poems to Read Together, a collection of poetry edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and published two decades ago. Next month, this single poem will arrive on shelves in the form of a board book, illustrated by Susan Reagan.
This is a set of verses all about the domestic drama that is the arrival of a new baby in the home. It’s told from the vantage point of the big sibling (who, as illustrated, could be a boy or a girl), pointing out the effusive comments adults make about the new baby: “His skin’s so soft. / His hair’s so fine.” But, the sibling notes, “I know my numbers up to nine.” For every adoring comment about the new baby, the sibling has his or her own set of skills to show off, as if to say, hey, I’m still here too. The best verses may be the opening ones, matter-of-fact as they are: “Listen to the baby laugh! When I was a baby, / I did that.” Touché. Finally, after the baby falls asleep, the older sibling gets some one-on-one time with the adult in charge (Grandma), grabbing a fairy tale book and declaring, “It’s time for you and me!”
Short and sweet, it captures with great economy the emotional needs of an older sibling when a newborn is in the home. Reagan’s detailed, textured watercolors feature a dark-skinned family; these are endearing, expressive portraits of the baby and sibling, and they add much resonance to the story. This brief story is an excellent conversation-starter for that child you know, feeling a bit overshadowed by a newborn’s arrival.
I always love to see the truly inclusive illustrations of Michael Emberley, and he’s back with Nancy Raines Day’s Baby’s Firsts, also coming to shelves next month. On the title page spread, readers see a trio of hugely pregnant mothers, their partners nearby, sharing anecdotes in a baby super-store. On the book’s opening spread, we see a baby has arrived: “First cry,” Day writes, as we see a jubilant couple holding up a screaming newborn. The rhyming verses here are short — “First grab, / first smile. / First laugh. / What style!” — and capture the first year of life. (The book closes on a first birthday party.)
I love how Emberley doesn’t shy in his warm, dynamic pencil illustrations from showing the primal needs and full bodies of babies, as well as the ups and downs of parenthood. On the first spread, we see every inch of the front of a newborn boy; this includes the baby’s penis in full view. (This is actually still rare to see in picture books.) We see a mother breastfeeding, a newborn boy spray urine in his father’s face (as newborn boys are wont to do during diaper changes), worn-out parents sniffing stinky diapers, and babies in the bath getting water everywhere. All of these things make up the reality of the boot camp that is the first year of parenting, but they’re outshined by the joys, which Day and Emberley capture with precision — those first steps, first words, first movements, and that first smile.
Last but not least is Richard Jackson’s Tessa Takes Wing, illustrated by Julie Downing and already on shelves. I was saying recently at my own blog that I have very much enjoyed the picture books of retired editor-now author Richard Jackson. He has a talent with words (and has been mighty prolific lately). This newest book is delightfully odd, and if you share it with your favorite toddler, expect loud squeals of delight.
This is the tale of Tessa, a very round, healthy, curious baby in her crib at night, who says, “Up.” She says it to no one in particular, and so no one answers. So, she jumps out of her crib and begins floating. At one point, readers turn the book vertically to see her flipping; it’s acrobatics in the air. We read that she is floating “higher even than yesterday!” Ah, so she makes a habit of this. Look closely to see that Downing has illustrated the baby with a tiny set of wings.
No family member (except the dog) is a witness to her high-flying night-time adventures, not even her sister Maggie, who sleeps in the same room. But we see, as the baby is awake and interacting with her family the next day, that she also flies with them — that is, she rides on her daddy’s shoulders, she swings from her parents arms, she is raised high in the air “almost as if she were flying” when her Mama plays with her. These are ways in which babies love to be handled, so it’s no wonder she imagines flights of fancy at night.
I love the pacing of this story, and Jackson’s staccato writing (“almost as if she were flying — almost —“) leaves readers nearly breathless in spots. Downing’s watercolor and colored pencil illustrations bring a loving family to life with affection and humor.
Toddlers, who have just passed out of the baby phase, get a big thrill out of reading about babies. So, find your favorite toddler and curl up with these surefire reads. Be sure you keep your copies on hand for the “read it again!” you’re likely to experience.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
BABY'S FIRSTS. Text copyright © 2018 by Nancy Raines Day. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Michael Emberley and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA.
TESSA TAKES WING. Text copyright © 2018 by Richard Jackson. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Julie Downing. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. Illustration reproduced by permission of Julie Downing.
YOU AND ME. Text copyright © 1998, 2018 by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Susan Reagan. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Creative Editions, Mankato, MN..