The best books we’ve had to talk to Finn about what it will be like to have a baby brother are a series of four by Rachel Fuller, given us by a friend who read them with the eldest two of her three children. They are robust board books (hooray!) with colourful illustrations and minimal text.
Finn regularly asks to read them and also makes comments that show they’ve helped him understand about the pregnancy and having a new brother. When we went for scans, he recognised the ultrasound from the picture in Waiting for Baby and really seemed to know what was going on. He’s decided he wants to help bath Little Baby like the older child in My New Baby and knows that LB will only eat milk at first (from mum’s boobs), ‘Like in the new baby story.’
The text is not a developed story in any of them, instead it’s there to start a conversation based on the image – often in the form of questions asked by the older child.
The four books work their way through a brilliant range of scenarios that will come up for a newly older sibling, including things the baby might do that cause feelings of frustration, worry, confusion or annoyance in the older child: everything from why does the baby cry/sleep so much? to having your toys picked up by a crawling baby, to having to wait around at a health visitor checkup for the baby. They are in roughly this order as both children get older:
We’ve worked our way through most of the Waiting for Baby scenarios in ‘real life’ now (except sadly, the one where mummy has a nap while the older child helps make dinner – maybe Finn is a bit young for that!) and used the illustrations to prepare Finn for having Granny stay with him while Little Baby comes out, and then meeting him for the first time afterwards. I’m sure the other books will continue to help us talk about the next steps.
It’s all very non-judgementally presented, with the older child shown as sometimes frustrated or bewildered, sometimes enjoying showing his sibling new skills. I really like that he also gets one-to-one time with mum or dad in the books too, has his own special toys and takes on some fun older-brother responsibilities.
I say ‘he’ but only because Finn is a boy: the illustrations of both siblings are helpfully gender-neutral and no names are used, so Finn and any other child can enjoy being the ‘Me’ of each story.
Coming from a household of Katie Morag fans, it’s not surprising to me that Mairi Hedderwick happens to cover lots of complex sibling experiences, often without mentioning them in the text. Katie Morag is Finn’s current hero, so we read the stories a lot and they often get us talking about relationships and feelings (in toddler terms!), through the richly detailed illustrations as well as the text.*
Katie and the Tiresome Ted is the only one of the stories we’ve read that is explicitly about becoming a sibling: it’s about Katie’s upset reaction to her second new sibling, a baby girl who attracts lots of fuss and presents from the islanders, leaving Katie feeling neglected and angry. She takes the anger out on her little brother Liam and then on poor Tiresome Ted… some quiet time staying with wise Grannie Island, and the passing of a winter storm, is needed for Katie to start to recover her sense of self.
Katie and the Tiresome Ted is also the first children’s book where I’ve come across a illustration of a very normal breastfeeding scenario – mum’s boob out on display while the baby turns her head to look at someone else. Amazingly (or not, I suppose) her open depiction of breastfeeding got Hedderwick censored by some libraries!
It’s really nice that there is no laboured point made in the text (breastfeeding isn’t mentioned, although the mum character is often pictured feeding the baby). It’s just there, part of the scene, as natural as it is. That helped me talk to Finn about breastfeeding and what mummy is going to be doing, without making a big fuss. I suspect he may find it quite hard or strange to see Little Baby breastfeeding as he himself is weaned, so it might feel like LB has a different closeness to me -or Finn might just want to know what is going on and what LB eats! I’m trying to give him opportunities to ask about it and know what it’s for.
Any other book recommendations to help with new babies or sibling life?
*Before this review starts to sound like I’m doing literary criticism with a 2-year-old, I’m not – it’s just that like lots of great children’s fiction, Hedderwick’s way of storytelling lets the stories function on all sorts of levels for the child and adult readers who share them.