From Calming to Chaotic?
Many of the greatest of children’s book authors have written books about the new baby, including Ezra Jack Keats (Peter’s Chair) and Lucy Cousins (Za-Za’s Baby Brother). Good as these books are, there’s a certain sameness to them: The older child discovers having a sibling is not all it’s cracked up to be and then learns that there are certain perks to being the big sister or brother.
This approach gives kids a vocabulary to talk about the life-altering change that a new baby is. At the same time, parents may not want to introduce these ideas of rivalry and loss if the older child does not yet feel them, and the pat solutions of these books may not really fill the emotional ache at all – nor show what really is great about having a sibling.
Instead, parents might want to seek out books not about babies, but about families and siblings. Russell Hoban’s A Baby Sister for Frances and A Birthday for Frances both look at the downside of having a baby in the house, but Best Friends for Frances may be the most effective sibling book of the three, because it holds out the promise of friendship.
• Whose Mouse Are You?, by Robert Kraus, Aladdin Library, 1986, explores themes of family and ends with the triumphant answer to the title’s question, “My brother’s mouse – he’s brand new!”
• What’s Inside, by Jeanne Ashbe, Kane/Miller, 2000, is a sweetly funny flap book that looks at things you can look inside (for example, a suitcase), things you best not look inside (a TV), and things that have something pretty exciting inside (a pregnant woman).
• Happy Birth Day!, by Robie H. Harris, Candlewick Press, 1996, is one mother’s recounting of her first meeting of her daughter. Ed Emberely’s drawings are appealing, and they don’t hide how funny-looking a newborn can be. This book prepares older kids for what to expect when a new baby comes along and gives parents the opportunity to tell the big kids what they really want to know – what it was like when they were babies.
• The Baby Dances, by Kathy Henderson, Candlewick Press, 1999, is a wonderful book for a very young sibling-to-be, because it both raises no tough issues and also prepares the older sibling for the disappointing fact that newborns mostly just scream, eat and sleep. Soft pastel illustrations and a simple text follow a baby’s first year with its minor triumphs (“The baby sits! The baby sits!”). But its real value comes at the end, when the baby walks, not just anywhere, but to her brother: “And safe in her brother’s arms, the baby dances.”
• Top Cat, by Lois Ehlert, Harcourt, 1998, is a clever take on sibling rivalry that may give older siblings a vocabulary for what they’re experiencing without them even realizing they’re reading a book about a new baby. The book focuses on the first cat, the Top Cat, and his displacement at the arrival of a new kitten.
• The Baby Sister, by Tomie De Paolo, Putnam, 1996, features big, good-natured pictures in a simple story about Tommy, who wishes for a sister with ribbons in her hair. All the tension in this story is between Tommy and his grandmother when she comes to stay. The story ends just as the sister comes home, just as Tommy had requested.
• Julius, Baby of the World, by Kevin Henkes, Mulberry Books, 1995. The author paints his heroine’s character in a few deft strokes, through text and illustration. Lilly is disgusted by the changes that her brother Julius brings to the house, and earns long periods in the “uncooperative chair.” Only when her cousin expresses the same opinions about Julius that Lilly herself has voiced does Lilly realize her brother’s value.
• A Baby Sister for Frances, A Birthday for Frances, and Best Friends for Frances, by Russel Hoban, Harper Trophy, various years, are honest and funny books about siblings. In A Baby Sister, Hoban carefully puts