June 28, 2007

(++++) BABY TALK

How to Be a Baby, by Me, the Big Sister. By Sally Lloyd-Jones. Illustrations by Sue Heap. Schwartz & Wade. $15.99.

One Naked Baby: Counting to Ten and Back Again. By Maggie Smith. Knopf. $15.99.

      “When you’re a baby, you don’t read books. You eat them,” explains Big Sister. And: “You can’t eat normal food. You can only eat yucky baby food.” And: “When you’re a baby, you’re called Muffin or Pumpkin or Peanut or Dumpling, and people say, ‘I could EAT you ALL UP!’” And eating (or not eating) is just a small part of being a baby in Sally Lloyd-Jones’ warmhearted look at babyhood from the perspective of an older sibling. “When you’re a baby, you don’t know how old you are or where you live or even if you’re a boy or a girl. Here’s what else you don’t know: …Any secrets. Any jokes. How to make a snowman. Anything!” These are wonderful observations, and are just the type that a real-life big sister might make. They become more wonderful yet through the charming illustrations of Sue Heap, who previously collaborated with Lloyd-Jones on Handbag Friends. It’s not just that the pictures of the baby and her sister are so delightful. There are also the lists, which look as if they were printed by hand on multicolored notebook paper – not only “what else you don’t know” but also “what else you can’t do” and “what else you are scared of” and more. And there is, above all, the loving sentiment underlying both words and illustrations. Big Sister describes the “teeny weeny eensy weensy teeny tiny baby” as the baby sits happily nearby; she draws amusing pictures to explain that as baby grows, “you don’t look so fat like a big balloon with a weird belly button sticking out”; and even when she complains about baby waking her up in the middle of the night and giving her a headache, Big Sister adds, “And that’s when I come in and whisper to you and kiss you and tell you, ‘Don’t worry, Baby Dumpling, it’s just a scary dream,’ and then you feel better.” The love comes through especially strongly at the end of this delightful book, when Big Sister imagines “when you get big” and all the things the siblings will do together, including “laugh[ing] and point[ing] at pictures of you in the olden days when you were a baby.” It’s hard to imagine a better Big Sister than this – or a better book for growing families than this one.

      A baby is enlisted for a very different purpose – teaching counting – in One Naked Baby. The book follows the adventures of a baby exploring his world, starting clean and fresh out of the tub and continuing until he is so dirty that he ends up back in the tub all over again (parents will immediately recognize the reality of the sequence!). Some things that are counted are in the environment (two fat cats, three laundry baskets); others are part of baby (“five toes for tickling”); some are on clothing (nine tiny chicks on baby’s hat); some are outdoors (the four perfect puddles and three wet pups that get baby all dirty again). Maggie Smith tells the home-and-yard adventure in easy-to-read rhymes, and every two-page spread highlights the number or numbers involved in that part of the story. Smith’s baby and baby’s-eye-view pictures are charming, with a fairy-tale gloss over real-world scenes (she gives worms eyes, for instance). And the inside front and back covers show the entire number adventure in a dotted-line sequence reminiscent of one of the wanderings depicted in the cartoon The Family Circus – except that this sequence starts with the naked baby at upper left and ends with the naked baby again, at lower right!

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