Big-sibling books to help AP families prepare for a new baby

I'm pregnant and due in June. I've been wanting to review some of the resources we've been using to prepare three-year-old Mikko for his new sibling, and I've decided to do this in stages. Here are some the books we have out from the library right now on the subject of new siblings and pregnancy and my mini-reviews of each.

Since my blog is about attachment/natural parenting, I've included special emphasis on how attachment-focused the books are. This is not meant to be a nitpicky criticism of the books in question, but to help AP readers find the books that are most relevant to your family, particularly since it's hard to find pictures and language in most kids' books that reflect an attachment lifestyle. Now, when I'm reading a book out loud that has a different term for a function or item than one we use, I simply change the language as I need to for my son to identify more closely with the story. In that way, you could change some language like, "Babies drink milk" to be "Babies drink nummies" (or your special word for nursing). That said, the accompanying illustration might be of bottle feeding only, so sometimes it's easiest to pick books that are already closest to your family's practices!

I'll try to note what ages these books are appropriate for. Mikko is three and a half, so I was aiming for his age range (~2-4 years old). Shorter board books might be better for much younger kids (and I haven't reviewed those), but several of the books below can work for younger toddlers if you don't mind shortening the text to match their attention spans. Kids in the early elementary range of ~5-7 years old will probably enjoy these books as well, and you can add your own stories, memories, and comments as you go along to make it fit their maturity level. Kids older than that will probably not need a picture book to understand the concept of adding a baby to the family. (I speak from the perspective of having been 9 years old when my brother was born.) If your child has special needs, of course, you may find some of the younger books appropriate.

I picked these ones because they happened to be at my library. They're mostly in the genre of "Baby is here; now what?" but I feel like they make decent preparatory books in advance. There are so many of these types of books out there, so this is not at all intended to be an exhaustive list. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments!

 

What Baby Needs

(written by William Sears, Martha Sears, & Christie Watts Kelly; illustrated by Renée Andriani)

What Baby Needs by Sears and Kelly         The purpose of this book, as with many older-sib books, is to prepare siblings for what to expect when the baby arrives, and how their parents will care for the baby. It also shows ways siblings might interact with the baby, how they can help their parents out during this newborn time, and how they can do things babies can't do, making them feel special for being older. A nice touch was a page showing the mother breastfeeding with her older daughter snuggled close:

"When Mommy is feeding the baby, you can snuggle up right next to her and read a book, you can take care of your own little baby doll, or you can have some 'just-being time' with Mommy."


         Young toddlers will enjoy the watercolor illustrations of parents and siblings interacting with the baby, though the text might need to be shortened on the fly. It closely fits preschool-age children. Additional notes in boxes on several pages give additional information and springboards for conversation that would be useful for slightly older children.
         The book includes notes for parents and caregivers, such as how to safely supervise older–younger sibling bonding, how to nurture and respect the older sibling (such as by keeping a stash of wrapped gifts and simple activities handy for the older sibling and by using the term "older [brother/sister]" rather than "big," so that the older kids don't feel so pressured to be "perfect"), and how to take early sibling rivalry in stride.

Diversity notes: The family is blindingly white as well as hetero-centric and, on one page in particular that demonstrates what looks like an infant dedication (in a vague way), Protestant/evangelical Christian-looking. As I find with a lot of AP books (ones for parents, too, I mean), it's also SAHM-oriented (language like "Baby might be fed Mommy's milk from a bottle if Mommy has to be away" and it shows only the mother running errands with all the kids).
         In fact, I wish for most of these books that they didn't feel a need to follow one family throughout the whole book but would instead show a variety of families with new babies — of different ethnicities, various parenting arrangements, maybe some with twins, etc. The best I can suggest is altering the language as you need to to reflect what's going on in your house (e.g., "Baby will drink num-nums in a bottle when Mama goes to work, just the way you did!" or talking about running errands with both parents or with other caregivers). But, obviously, it's hard to change the way the illustrations look.

AP notes: This book is from a series of children's books co-authored by the attachment parenting gurus themselves, so it's obviously very AP-centric. Beyond the obvious, it even recommends skin-to-skin bonding, which I thought was a nice touch! The parents sleep with a side-carred cosleeper, and the dad on one page is wearing the baby in a ring sling. It talks about responding quickly to babies' needs when they are crying. It shows the baby breastfeeding and bottle feeding, so you're free to emphasize which method your family uses, or talk about both. I most appreciated this book for these elements of showing AP in action, because it's rare to find illustrations of cosleeping and babywearing outside of a Sears Children's Library book!

 

I'm a Big Brother

(written by Joanna Cole; illustrated by Rosalinda Knightley)

I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Cole         (There's a companion book called I'm a Big Sister.)
         The cut-out collage-type illustrations are enchanting. The messages are right on target, talking about the differences between babies and big kids but reminding the sibling:

"Mommy loves me. Daddy loves me.
I am special to them.
I'm the only me in the whole world!"


         The overall tone is positive, and the story is short and simple enough to read even to a younger toddler. Kids older than preschool age will likely find it too young.

Diversity notes: Everyone in this book (even minor characters) reads as white. It's a two-parent, hetero household, although it doesn't specify who is working and who might not be, since both parents are around for the whole book.

AP notes: There are no breastfeeding or babywearing references in this book. The baby is shown drinking only from a bottle. When the fact that babies drink milk is first referenced, it's with a bottle and bib in the background. Later on, the dad is holding the baby and the big sibling helps feed the baby with a bottle. The baby is often shown in various containers (bouncy seat, pram, coming out of a crib) or on the floor rather than held in arms and never in a soft baby carrier or sling. It's unclear whether diapers are cloth or disposable, and parents could point it out as fitting whichever method they use.

 

On Mother's Lap

(written by Ann Herbert Scott; illustrated by Glo Coalson)

On Mother's Lap by Ann Herbert Scott         This is one of those books where I unfortunately liked it more than Mikko did. I think the pastel illustrations are lovely, and I enjoy the setting in Alaska or somewhere similarly Arctic.
         But what brings tears to my eyes is the simple message of the story. The older brother wants to sit on his mother's lap in the rocking chair, and he brings his treasured possessions one by one into her lap — his dolly, his boat, his puppy, his reindeer blanket. But his little sibling, left behind, starts crying, and his mother suggests they bring the baby on board, too. The brother pouts, but his mother remains serene and smiling and ends up snuggling them all. The ending:

"His mother gave him a squeeze.
'You know, it's a funny thing,' she whispered,
'but there is always room on Mother's lap.'"


Awww!
         I don't know why Mikko didn't like it. He's three. It happens. I like it! Sweet without being saccharine, and very comforting.
         This would be a nice, simple story to read to a sibling who's having a hard time adjusting to the birth and wants to know his parents still have room for everyone.
         The text is sparse enough to attract even young toddlers, but I think all ages will enjoy the message. Except for Mikko.

Diversity notes: Hey, they're not white! Fancy that. The characters are Inuit/Eskimo. Only the mother and children are shown, although there are other townsfolk playing outside in the snow. I can't draw any conclusions about other aspects of their family structure.

AP notes: While not specifically Baby B-oriented, the book shows a respect and honor for children that's in line with AP tenets. The mother responds immediately to the crying baby while continuing to nurture her older child. There's only one adult-size bed in the room that the baby is lying on, suggesting some form of cosleeping. Completely incidentally, there's a mother on the back cover, seen through the window, who's wearing her little one in an amauti, a traditional Arctic babywearing coat.

 

Sophie and the New Baby

(written by Catherine Anholt; illustrated by Laurence Anholt)

Sophie and the New Baby by Catherine Anholt         The story is about a girl, Sophie, who is having a tough time adapting to her new baby brother. It starts when her mother is pregnant, and she's excited about the upcoming birth. But when the baby arrives, Sophie is distraught by how little her parents pay attention to her anymore. At one point, she runs out into a snowstorm and cries in her distress:

"I DON'T WANT THAT BABY! I DON'T WANT THAT BABY ANYMORE!"


         After several months, she comes to terms with her new brother as he grows and learns to smile, and in the spring she passes her beloved rag doll on to him.          While I liked this book, I decided it wasn't appropriate to my purposes after reading it through. Since Mikko doesn't yet have a sibling, I thought the book was too much of a downer in terms of implanting negative messages and suggesting to him that he'll hate being an older brother.
         That said, I could see it being useful for kids who are distressed by their sibling's arrival. It doesn't make light of Sophie's emotions, and it shows how she gradually and organically lifts herself up, with her parents' help, from being depressed over the situation.          The watercolors are charming.          I think preschoolers on up could appreciate this book, but it might be most appropriate for the early elementary range, due to the complex emotional arc and the fact that the heroine "outgrows" her rag doll.

Diversity notes: These people are so white they look like they're in Geisha makeup. I'm not joking. Hetero household with two parents. The father is very involved in the childrearing, both with the baby and with Sophie.

AP notes: The baby is shown breastfeeding in two panels. I didn't see any bottles. Once again, the illustrations are vague enough that you could suggest cloth diapering is involved. The baby does spend time in bouncy seats, bassinets, and a pram, as well as on the floor, but also is in arms a lot. Sophie sleeps in her own bed.

 

Mommy Laid an Egg, OR Where DO Babies Come From?

(written & illustrated by Babette Cole)

Mommy Laid an Egg by Babette Cole         (The original UK title is Mummy Laid an Egg.)
         This book is a hoot. It's about two parents who don't know how babies are made and the two kids who set them straight with the facts about the birds and bees. The dim parents suggest all sorts of theories, from finding babies under rocks to growing them from seeds to laying an exploding egg (hence, the title). The kids just laugh at them and draw them simple pictures of anatomically correct humans and how those anatomical parts fit together to make babies.
         I found this book to be an excellent and humorous jumping-off point to start explaining to Mikko just how that baby got in my tummy in the first place. And, yes, it even prompted me to explain that it's not in my tummy but in my uterus, but not all the vocabulary has stuck yet!
         The book doesn't actually use correct vocabulary for the terms, opting for more descriptive words. But Mikko loves knowing the terms for body parts (discussing genitalia is a big hit among the three-year-old crowd!), so we substituted the terms we use for the ones used in the book. For instance, the book calls the penis a tube (based on the parents' suggesting you could squeeze babies out of a tube of baby-paste), so we just say that it's a tube called a penis.
         This book might not sit well with more conservative parents, given the frank talk and the sex-romp spread that shows parents having intercourse in a multitude of humorous positions. (In fact, I just caught a whiff of the Amazon reviews, and apparently some people really have no sense of humor about the book.)
         Another issue that might complicate matters is the amount of time the book spends describing and illustrating the false ways babies are made. Younger children might take the parents' misinformation literally and tuck away that babies are delivered by dinosaurs, if that caught their attention. I found myself making loud guffawing noises throughout the silly portion of the book and scoffing at every line so that Mikko would realize this was the untrue section. (If that seems like overkill, it's not. He will routinely watch children's television shows that have a 20-minute buildup of the wrong response and then a 5-minute resolution with a moral. He inevitably remembers the wrong response over the moral.)          I see this book as being a good start for talking about sex education with preschoolers on up (or earlier if your toddler shows an interest!).

Diversity notes: Once again, we're in Whitesville with the Whitey McWhitersons. The book is also very hetero-oriented, calling people "mommies" and "daddies" rather than female and male and showing only hetero sex. I'm not sure exactly how they'd shoehorn this in, but there was no talk of how babies might be made without hetero intercourse, such as IVF or other processes, so it might not be as helpful if your babies were made another way.

AP notes: This isn't really an AP book (or anti-AP), since it's not about parenting per se. One thing that jumped out at me, though, in terms of natural parenting is that the two kids are inexplicably sprawled on the couch on the first couple pages, watching TV and scarfing down junk food, their faces smeared with chocolate and candy and the living room a jumbled mess. I really couldn't figure out why they were presented that way, given that they're the smart ones in the story — I guess it just seemed like a funny thing to draw?

 

There's Going to Be a Baby

(written by John Burningham; illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)

There's Going to Be a Baby by John Burningham & Helen Oxenbury         I'm a sucker for Helen Oxenbury illustrations. They're vintage and quaint without being twee. I love how it travels through the seasons of the pregnancy and shows the mother's belly gradually and gracefully growing larger.
         This is a book that could be good for a child who's reluctant to add to the family. The mother speculates about what the baby might be when it grows up (chef, zookeeper, gardener, park worker, etc.), and the brother counters with what a terrible job the baby would do at all those tasks, imagining each one taking place.
         In the end, though, the brother's riding with his grandfather on the bus to meet the baby at the hospital, and he seeks reassurance that he will, in fact, love the baby very much.
         It has a lot of notes of humor. For instance, the brother suggests they name the baby Spider-Man if it's a boy, and his imagined scenarios are whimsical, showing the baby flipping pancakes onto his own head and making a mess painting.
         It might be hard explaining to a young reader(-alonger) that the scenarios are only in the imagination of the brother and are not what a baby can actually do. This might be a better choice for a child who's resisting the idea of a birth to spark discussion of what a baby might eventually grow to be like.
         A few (very few) of the pages had too much text for my three-year-old to sit through. There was a little disappointment from Mikko, too, that the story ends just before they meet the baby; I think he expected more of a payoff. However, I think this book can work well for preschoolers through early elementary.

Diversity notes: White again, though they live in a city, so some of the background characters are more diverse. I did have an impression of affluence, since they eat out, wear chic clothes, and visit museums, which might or might not turn off some readers. But they live in a city and take public transportation and walk places and spend a lot of time outdoors. I got the impression that the mother must not be working to be able to take her son to all these different places all the time. I did enjoy that a grandfather makes an appearance at the end, transporting the brother to the hospital to meet his sibling.

AP notes: It's not an AP-centered book, since most of it is fantasy and not what babies can actually do in any case. It does show conventional medicine two times — once when the boy goes to a doctor's appointment and imagines the baby as a doctor, and then again when the mother is giving birth in a hospital (implied by the travel there and the hospital-like swinging door on the last page).

 

The New Baby

(written & illustrated by Mercer Mayer)

The New Baby by Mercer Mayer         I love Mercer Mayer's series of books. The illustrations are upbeat, and the stories are a lot of fun, too.
         The boy is excited that his new baby sister is coming home, so he gets out toys he can play with her. As it turns out, though, she can't play with any of the toys, and she makes a lot of noise and smells. The book is about learning what babies can do that the older sibling will also enjoy, and at the end he feels proud to be the older brother.
         With not too many words and funny illustrations, this book could work for younger toddlers on up. Even elementary students would find the humor engaging.

Diversity notes: The characters are some sort of indeterminate critters, so you're free to imagine the race. The couple is hetero, although both the mother and father are seen together throughout the book.

AP notes: Let's put it this way: In one scene, the baby's lying alone in the crib feeding herself from a bottle. So, yeah.

 

Babies Don't Eat Pizza

(written by Diane Danzig; illustrated by Debbie Tilley)

Babies Don't Eat Pizza         This is a more educating-type book, similar to What Baby Needs, with tips for parents and a very preparation-oriented tone for the kids.          The book goes into a lot of detail of what to expect, starting with inside the womb and even allowing for the possibility of adoption and C-sections. As the title suggests, this is another book that emphasizes both what babies can do and have, and what, by contrast, older kids can do (to make them feel special for being older).
         The watercolors are appealing. The text is detailed enough for even elementary students to gain something. Younger children might need you to make up an "abridged" version.

Diversity notes: Finally! This book shows a variety of families of different ethnicities. It includes multiples and preemies and talks about adoption.

AP notes: Babies are shown both nursing and bottle feeding. There are cribs and strollers.

There's a part 2 on the way (I've maxed out my library hold queue!), and I'm trying really, really hard to get some more diverse options in there as well as stumble upon some more AP-friendly options. Leave a comment if you know of good ones!

What books do you love (or not) for preparing a child for the arrival of a new sibling?

 

This post originally appeared on Hobo Mama.
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