I recently learned that a former colleague of mine, a good friend, had just had a baby girl. I was thrilled; this is a young woman who will make a wonderful mother, and I wish her and her new family all the best. If you’re the sort to believe in auras, then I’m almost positive that the cloud around my head would have looked like fluffy pink bunny rabbits and woolly lambkins with baby kittens purring on their backs as I walked over to my dresser drawer and pulled it open. A new baby! Then I sighed. Darn, I was down to only one copy of Here Babies, There Babies, by Nancy Cohen, illustrated by Carmen Mok and I needed… let’s see: there was a birthday present coming up, and then another two new babies (second babies in the family, so even more important), so that makes four total. I decided to order four copies so I’d still have one in reserve.
To express myself more plainly, Here Babies, There Babies is one of my go-to baby present books, particularly for parents expecting a second baby. But first, a note: Yes, I do know the author, Nancy Cohen, quite well. In point of fact, I think she’s seen me crawling around in diapers, although I don’t remember my diaper days with particular clarity. That said, I knew her both as a family friend and as a wonderful children’s librarian. I knew her as my mother’s collaborator when they rewrote children’s stories as little plays for us to act out. I knew her, basically, in her role as Person Who Knows About Kids’ Books. She and my mother had, and have, a lot to talk about in that regard, and are probably jointly responsible for the sinking foundations of this house as I fill it with ever-increasing numbers of children’s books.
So, yes, I do know and like her. I also happen to really, really like this book– more importantly, the Changeling really, really likes this book. And I want to think about why we like it so much that it has rapidly became a book I need to have to hand in my dresser the way I need flour in my pantry. I mean, really, this is what they need at the grocery store, right? Imagine being able to call your husband and say, “Yes, I’m down to two eggs, so please get another dozen and a big bag of flour. Oh, and a few potatoes, and I’ve only got one copy of Here Babies, There Babies, so could you get another two of that? Thanks, see you at 5:30, then!” Aren’t grocery stores supposed to stock essentials, after all? If they can branch out to light bulbs, why not kids’ books? While I’m dreaming, they could start putting all the cheese in the same place and stop putting the eggs where toddlers can reach them. (I can never go back to that grocery store again.)
Wait, we were talking about the book, right? Well, here’s the thing. The book is exactly like that. It’s about life: life with babies. Babies are part of our ordinary life and the world as it is, even if the people who stick poles precisely in the centre of the sidewalk so that there’s no way that the leanest of umbrella strollers could possibly fit around them don’t see it that way, and this book crystallizes that very basic concept into simple rhymes and soft, lovely images. We start by opening up to a slice of a street: we see babies and toddlers in a few different locations (café, bus, bike) and are told that babies are everywhere: “Here babies, there babies/ See them everywhere babies.” (Read that aloud: the charming lilt you hear and feel continues through the book, and really is that lovely to read throughout.) Then it gets more specific as we watch babies in various common places: stores, libraries, strollers, one reading stories with Daddy, two taking naps… and then back to the bird’s-eye view of town seeing babies everywhere! The premise is absurdly practical and simple, and one I honestly haven’t seen in any other book: we live in a world that includes babies.
If you’re a small child, particularly a child in a very adult world (I speak feelingly: we live near Cambridge, MA), you may well want to see yourself as part of the world you live in, and a book like this is a great way to do that. It just tells you that you belong: you belong in the grocery store, you belong on the street, you belong in the café, you belong in the town! (As a parent, I can sometimes use the reminder, too… yes, I am allowed to have my child in the café with me, thanks.) The pictures are a perfect accompaniment, showing babies from tiny little ones to toddlers, babies in carriers, strollers, cars, bikes, etc. Boys or girls of any race should be able to find themselves and their families in here. It’s a lovely mirror of the text: we live in a world that includes babies, all babies– oh look, here you are, too! A word of warning on that point, though: I was, as usual, flipping through the book I was writing about here to think about the interaction between illustration and text, and I kept pausing to sigh, murmur about the cuteness, and basically feel my heart melt over and over again. For female readers: I don’t think this book can induce ovulation, but I’m also not 100% sure it can’t. Studies so far are inconclusive on that point. For all readers: if your heart doesn’t melt at any point as you read this book then you may want to check your pulse– are you sure you’re alive?
Before I stop, I just want to highlight a couple of points already mentioned. First, the lovely rhythm. That rhythm makes it fun to read aloud to extremely young children, rocking in a chair while they coo at the pictures. It also makes it fun for older toddlers, 18 months and up. The Changeling loves to engage with the text: she recites it, she also builds on it: “Babies in the bath! Babies play with ducks!” And so on. It’s a simple rhythm, but lively, and it’s one of the first books which got the Changeling playing with adding to the text that was there already. (Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie is also good for this… another Canadian, too.)
The second point I wanted to bring forward was why I so frequently give this as a gift to parents expecting a second baby. As I said, this is the only book I know which has its basic message that we live in a world with babies. It’s just natural to have babies around! That’s our world. I think that’s a great concept for first babies to get used to when they’re expecting the next one to come along. This is our world, a world with babies… and soon we’ll be adding one more.
This is a book I’d love to see around more. It’s from Nimbus, a Canadian publisher, and if Kids Can Press could just give them a few tips on getting their books onto those nice displays at the Harvard Book Store that would be fantastic, thanks so much! You’ll note that I, unusually for me, linked to Amazon up there. That’s because it really is the easiest way to get this one, but do call up your local bookstore and ask them to order it in. Ask for three copies, because you just don’t know when you may need an extra one. And ask them to stock it because there really are babies everywhere, and it’s good to talk about that.