It pains me to report that the number one requested book in the house is still “Brow Beah,” with Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See in close second. But another popular one is the very sweet Baby Brother, which I actually like as much as Harper does.
We are expecting a new baby, uh, pretty much exactly on Harper’s second birthday, and so to prep her on this upcoming excitement/trauma I’ve been searching for new-baby-related picture books. What I’ve found is somewhat distressing. Most of the books go something like, and I paraphrase, “Mom had a new baby. Total drag! It cries all the time and smells like poo and I hate it! But in the end I guess it’s okay.” Now, Harper’s very little, and her conception of what’s about to happen to her cosseted only-child-life seems abstract at best, but generally she’s very positive about it. What does she know? She kisses my belly and says “Baby.” Why should we plant in her head the idea that this might actually be sort of awful for her? Why even mention the possibility?
So I was happy to find this book at the library — Baby Brother, by Tanneke Wigersma, illustrated by Nynke Mare Talsma. (Please note that a quick search reveals many books out there called Baby Brother. The one I have in mind is a pretty picture book, not the “urban erotic tale by the best-selling author of G-Spot,” although I’m sure that one’s lovely too.)
The watercolory illustrations are just beautiful, combining patterns and colors I wish I could rock in my daily dress, the images appearing on large pages with lots of white space that lend a very calming feel. The text is spare, just a line or two on each page, which is great for this age (19 months). And the story is just perfect. The little girl, Mia, is writing a letter to her grandmother about the family cat, Stripe, who is pregnant. Meanwhile, her pregnant mama wanders around in the background, getting ready. In the end (spoiler alert!) the cat has kittens, and Mama has a baby. The little girl’s casual mention of her new baby brother after the detailed recounting of the cat’s experiences feels like a very realistic response.
The first time we read this book, Harper’s eyes bugged out at the last page, when the little girl is holding the new baby. She spent a long time flipping back and forth and looking at the mom’s belly and then the new baby. I don’t feel like I’ve seen a lot of picture books that include both the pregnant mom and the new baby – they usually pick up after the birth – and this visual representation, I hope, is helpful to a toddler trying to figure out what this whole “baby in the belly” nonsense is really about.
When I asked Harper what she thought of this book, she reported: “Own food.” I assume she is commenting on the page where the cat won’t eat its own food. Either that or she was hungry.
So, for all these things, and for sometimes providing a break from the Brown Bear tyranny, Baby Brother gets 5 Balloons. (Ha! You like that? Ratings.)