By Unity Dienes
Hollis NH USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 1, January-February 2003, p. 22
Reading children's books about pregnancy, birth, and babies can be one helpful way parents prepare a child to become a big brother or big sister, but there are so many such books available that it can be difficult to know which book is right for a given child.
A child's age, interests, and specific concerns about a new (or not-so-new) baby should be taken into account when choosing books to help the transition to becoming a sibling.
For very young children who will soon be the "big brother" or "big sister," two books by Jeanne Ashbé are ideal. They are small, square books just right for a toddler's grasp, and every sturdy page has a flap to open.
What's Inside delights children with the "inside view" of what makes up their world. What's inside the present? ("A cuddly little bunny.") How about a television? ("Oh my! It's complicated!") And what about mommy's tummy? In a very natural progression, What's Inside validates the child's curiosity about his or her mother's pregnancy, and keeps it in the realm of understandable things. Real mothers don't have windows to the womb, and the idea that a baby is growing inside can be baffling to a small child. What's Inside simply illustrates the idea that there really is a baby in there who will, at last, come out.
And After That uses a format similar to What's Inside, but focuses on the time after the baby's birth. The top of every flap shows what comes first, and under each flap, of course, shows what comes after. After socks, come shoes. After dinner, comes dessert. And after the baby's born, well, some things will change but others will not. There is a sweet illustration of a mother breastfeeding, and after that, "You will have a snack, of course!" Breastfeeding is depicted as the natural way to feed a baby, just as it is customary to feed an older child a snack at a table. This book relies on predictable associations in a child's life to make the imminent changes after the birth of a sibling more understandable. Young children may be confused and nervous about how things will change when a new baby joins the family. And After That makes the changes as unthreatening as the progression from dinner to dessert--and every bit as nice.
Preschoolers and older children may better appreciate Baby on the Way, by William and Martha Sears and Christie Watts Kelly, which also focuses on the time of the mother's pregnancy. This book invites children to imagine (in terms they can understand) feeling hungry, thirsty, tired, "yucky," sore, and in a mood to "snuggle down all safe." Sometimes expectant mothers forget to explain to their children how they feel-this book fills that void. Although it is unrealistic to expect very young children to be truly empathetic and understanding of their mothers' problems, understanding the physical discomfort of pregnancy may help some children to be less confused about their mother's behavior.
Later, when the "belly squeezes" result in the much-anticipated birth, the baby will need to be held, the baby will cry, and, of course, the baby will breastfeed: "Tiny babies just sleep and nurse all day long." It can be hard to wait so long for the baby to be born, but "soon your new baby will be here for you to love, too." This book is special because it not only prepares children for the needs of a newborn, but also acknowledges that pregnancy itself can be difficult on the children.
Baby on the Way can appeal to a wide age range of children. Sidebars with "answers for the very curious" give information in slightly more scientific, but still understandable, terms for children who are a little older. "What You Can Do" boxes suggest activities that children can help parents with to prepare for the baby's arrival. The illustrations depict a pair of siblings being joined by a third child, so this book is particularly appropriate not only for children expecting a first sibling, but also for children who may have one or more siblings already.
Another book that does a particularly fine job of depicting the duration of pregnancy and the passage of time is Sophie and the New Baby by Laurence and Catherine Anholt. Sophie has to wait such a long time for the new baby to be born-all the way through spring, summer, autumn, to the very first snowfall of winter. When her brother finally arrives, she is very excited at first! Her baby brother is so soft and cuddly. But some days "he wanted to be fed, he wanted to be changed, he wanted to be cuddled, and he wanted it all right now." Sophie gets frustrated! And who can blame her? She wants the playmate she was promised, and she does not want to wait any longer! But of course, she must wait, and by the time spring rolls around again, Sophie realizes her waiting is over. She has come to terms with her brother, and they have a whole new year ahead of them.
This beautifully illustrated book (which, incidentally, depicts the baby breastfeeding) is appropriate for girls or boys. Since the "difficult period" here is infancy, it is most appropriate to children who are or soon will be living with an infant sibling. Children may also appreciate this book at the beginning of their mother's pregnancy, since it visually demonstrates the length of time between the announcement of a pregnancy and the birth of a baby.
Preparing for a new baby is one thing, but it's a different challenge to address the concerns of the child having trouble with a baby brother or sister who has been around for a while. Written by a sixth-grade girl, I Was Born to Be a Sister is an autobiographical story. It describes the author's journey from her initial delight at the baby brother's birth, to her dismay at his sometimes frustrating toddler behavior, to her happiness as she realizes how he looks up to her and the responsibility that implies.
I Was Born to Be a Sister would be especially appropriate for slightly older children frustrated with a toddler sibling. The illustrations are delightful, and astute readers will enjoy looking for subtle references to breastfeeding, such as the magazine the mother is reading, the nursing mother at the swimming pool, or the nursing fashions worn by the mother. Additionally, follow-up activities and a song can be found at the publisher's Web site, cited on the book's cover.
Whatever their age, children may need help adjusting to the birth of a sibling. These five books each target children with slightly different needs, so choose the one (or more) that works best for you and your child.