Friday, 27 January 2012

Images of Breastfeeding in Children’s Books: Part Two

(to see Part One click here).

Katie Morag and the New Pier
Mairi Hedderwick

The Katie Morag series of children’s books features a feisty young girl and her adventures on a fictional Scottish island. The text is irrelevant to breastfeeding. The story isn’t even about babies. Yet the author-illustrator Mairi Hedderwick has stealthily slipped in images of breastfeeding throughout the series. In this story, workmen appear on the island to build a new pier but a storm breaks out. In one scene a builder bursts into Katie Morag’s home, where some of the other builders are taking shelter, and announces that “the huts are floating out to sea!” The accompanying illustration shows Katie’s mum (who curiously has grey hair and looks elderly) breastfeeding Katie’s little brother as the news breaks.

Katie Morag and the Dancing Class
Mairi Hedderwick

Katie’s grannies think it would be a great idea for her to attend ballet classes, but Katie is far from agreeable. One of her grannies remarks that “she longed to see her granddaughter in a pretty outfit instead of that old jumper and skirt and those dreadful willies”. In the accompanying illustration Katie is seen scorning whilst the rest of her family sit awkwardly. Katie’s mother is breastfeeding the baby as her father cooks dinner.

Katie Morag and the Grand Concert
Mairi Hedderwick

In this story, the island hosts a Grand Concert and Katie learns a song to perform. True to form, breastfeeding is not mentioned in the text, yet in the scene where Katie practices her song in front of her family, her mother is seen breastfeeding the baby with nipple is clearly visible.

Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted
Mairi Hedderwick

This story runs with the new baby theme. Katie is not altogether pleased with her new sibling (that old chestnut), so in a tantrum she throws her teddy bear into the sea. Of course, the story ends with a restored teddy and Katie’s acceptance of the new baby. In the final scene Katie’s mother is illustrated cradling the baby, yet it appears the baby has latched off to look at her sister which means that the complete breast is exposed; nipple, areola, the works. Sadly this particular illustration sparked controversy, with some libraries banning the book. When asked if she has a breastfeeding agenda the author has maintained that she was just drawing her own experience of life with a growing family in a small island community. “I always try to make sure that if there is a domestic scene and if Mrs McColl is sitting and comfy then she has the baby at her breast but I don't show exposed nipples anymore because it just makes the publishers too jittery. They don't like anything that might interfere with book sales” (Herald Scotland).

In a Minute
Tony Bradman and Eileen Browne

Another rare gem whereby the theme is not about babies nor is breastfeeding mentioned in the text. Like the Katie Morag stories, one of the illustrations in the book has breastfeeding subtly tucked in; and it's taking place in public – an added bonus. The story is fairly simplistic. A girl called Jo is eager to go to the playground with her family but she regularly endures the common parental delaying tactic: repeated utterings of “In a minute”. In one scene Jo and her family miss their bus because her parents have said “In a minute!” one too many times. The breastfeeding illustration shows Jo and her family waiting at the bus stop for the next bus to arrive. In the background a mother can be seen nursing her baby and being harassed by a toddler which appears to be busting for the toilet.

All Pigs Are Beautiful
Dick King-Smith

Another book from the animal genre, All Pigs Are Beautiful is quasi-nonfiction, and describes the life of pigs on a farm. If there’s anyone that knows a thing or two about pigs it’s Dick King-Smith, author of the infamous Babe. This book does not feature humans’ breastfeeding, but of course it features pigs nursing their young, and it is humorously written: “Sows spend their lives having babies, lots of them, and they take as good care of them as your mum does of you. Well, almost. Trouble is, newborn piglets are so small that sometimes a sow lies down and squashes one. Your mother would never do that to you – I hope!”

Read and Play: Baby Animals
Jim Pipe

This thin, basic non-fiction book uses photographs to introduce young children to the infant animal kingdom. Yes I picked it up because of the cute kittens on the cover but the fun doesn't stop there. Inside a Labrador Retriever can be found nursing her puppies – and looking very pleased with herself. A little further through the book piglets are seen suckling from their mum but the photo is less obvious as the feeding is tucked around the back of the shot. At the rear of the book there are games such as matching the noise to the correct animal. There’s also a page for parents and teachers with a list of questions to ask youngsters, such as “What do you think baby animals like to eat or drink?” The answer given is “Mother’s milk”.

Thoughts and Feelings: Our New Baby
Jen Green

This sensitively-written book explores the feelings children may have regarding the birth of a new sibling. Each page contains a colourful combination of illustrations and photographs, some designed in comic book style with speech bubbles. Interestingly the book explores the possibility of birthing at both hospital and in the home. Breastfeeding is shown fleetingly via illustration. The text explains that “a baby feeds from the mum’s breast” then bellow another picture features the text: “or a baby feeds from a bottle” with Dad and an older sibling seen bottle feeding. No further information is given on feeding; probably because the book has more pressing issues to investigate. Aimed at the tween-age audience, it covers topics such as jealousy, anger, the birth and stepfamilies. Telephone numbers for Childline and the NSPCC placed at the conclusion compliment the deep nature of this book. Other titles in the series include ‘My Parents Divorce’, ‘Bullies and Gangs’, ‘Racism’, and ‘When People Die.’ Feel good stuff then.

The Biggest Bed in the World
Lindsay Camp and Jonathan Langley

The Biggest Bed in the World is a heart warming story of reproduction gone crazy! It’s also a wonderfully endearing portrayal of a co-sleeping family. At the start Mum and Dad have one baby with whom they co-sleep. As the baby grows bigger co-sleeping becomes more difficult so what do the parents do? Put baby in a cot? No, they buy a bigger bed, naturally. Then along comes baby number two (cue breastfeeding scene). Predictably the bed soon becomes too small so the family buy the biggest bed they can find. Then along come twins! Now the family need an even bigger bed than before. So Dad is forced to build the biggest bed in the world, knocking down several walls of the house so that it can fit.

Sadly the twins are shown with a feeding bottle. I’m assuming that Mum’s exclusive breastfeeding didn’t last very long as she is shelling babies like an extra from One Born Every Minute. It's not long before triplets come along! This story surely puts to rest the myth that if you co-sleep your sex-life goes down the drain. Interestingly as Mum has more babies so does the pet cat. With nine family members in the bed, and the cat, the cat’s kittens and the dog – the biggest bed in the world was also the heaviest bed in the world; and because Dad knocked down the walls, the house was weak and wobbly. Consequently the bed and its occupants “slide out of the house” (that’s the only way to describe it) and down a hill into the river. At this point Mum and Dad decide to abandon co-sleeping and build bunk beds instead. The story doesn’t end there, of course. I urge you to find a copy of the book to see what happens. Yes I'm a bitch.

Mariana and the Merchild
Caroline Pitcher and Jackie Morris

This traditional South American folk tale is refreshingly female-centred and focuses on the mother-daughter relationship. However it’s a bit dark for my liking and perhaps not suitable for very young children. The first page speaks of a lonely elderly woman called Mariana who lives isolated in an old hut by the sea. Sometimes the hut would get ravaged by a storm and the book uses the metaphor of ‘sea-wolves’ to illustrate this. The gracefully poetic text is atmospheric and serves as an ideal companion for the haunting illustrations. The story dramatically unfolds when after a particularly ferocious storm an infant merchild is washed ashore in a shell. Mariana wants to keep the child, and her wish is granted when the infant's mother, a Sea Spirit, asks the old woman to look after her. When the Sea Spirit emerges from the sea she places the child to her breast to suckle (arguably the best illustration in the book, but then, I’m biased). She explains that she will return everyday to feed the child and teach her to swim. Mariana and the merchild live happily together until the day when the child must return to the sea.

Jump to Part Three

Friday, 20 January 2012

Images of Breastfeeding in Children’s Books: Part One

Have you ever counted the number of bottle-fed babies portrayed in your child’s books? Yet children’s books depicting lactation are more elusive than your pelvic floor after a vaginal delivery.  If 95 percent of the books available to children contain only bottle-feeding images, this perpetuates the myth that bottle-feeding is the normal way to feed babies.

Thus I’ve set myself the challenge of scouring the bookshops and libraries of the country in search of breastfeeding in children’s books. I will be presenting my findings in a series of ‘parts’. Welcome to part one.

Sophie And The New Baby
Catherine Anholt and Laurence Anholt

From the “new baby” genre, this book explores the emotional ups and downs experienced by a young girl when her baby brother arrives. It’s the usual business of jealousy, fear and ultimate acceptance. Breastfeeding is shown, as it is commonly in this genre, as an inconvenience to the older sibling, an act which keeps her mother in a state of occupation. “He wanted to be fed... he wanted it right now” the text explains. On the other hand, the mother is shown happily nursing in the two illustrations that feature breastfeeding. Her hair is spruced, she is wearing earrings, a necklace and feminine clothing. This groomed appearance is a breath of fresh air compared to the haggard, exhausted depiction of breastfeeding mothers commonly seen in media.

What Do Cows Do?
Ticktock Media Ltd

I was hesitant to feature this book here as it doesn’t contain breastfeeding per se. Rather it features animals nursing. However for a book that only has 10 pages, to feature nursing so centrally is worthy of mention. Needless to say the content is very simplistic. The book begins by describing that cows live on farms, they eat grass, they go moo, you get the picture. Then the text explains that cows make milk inside their bodies and the milk comes out of “here” with an arrow pointing to an illustration of udders. The next double page spread shows cows nursing their babies with the accompanying text “The calf drinks milk from its mum”. This simple board book could be seen as a celebration of what connects us as mammals.

A Baby Just Like Me
Susan Winter

Martha, a little girl, is excited at the imminent arrival of her baby sibling, however when the baby is born, she learns the terrible truth – newborns don’t do anything. They’re boring. “And worse, it seems to take up all of mum’s time and attention”. The baby takes no notice of the puppet show that Martha and her friend Sam perform, it sleeps right through the song they sing, also it cries and scares away their pet bird. At one point Sam suggests “you should send the baby back”. Eventually Martha goes crying to her mum, who is breastfeeding. Martha sobs, “You’re always with her”. Then we see the cosy Hallmark moment where her mum scoops Martha into her arms and explains that the baby will grow into “a proper sister”. Predictably the baby does just that, and all is well again.

Just Like You Did
Marjorie Newman and Ken Wilson-Max

More of the same. This is the typical formula of the new baby genre: newborn arrives, existing sibling feels rejected, relatives fuss over the new baby, Mum and Dad are forever occupied with the new baby, existing child has a stroppy tantrum, cue reassuring hugs from parents. Breastfeeding is yet again shown as one of the chores that keep the parents occupied. On a positive note, books such as this one, which depict breastfeeding as burdensome, often show Dad getting on with chores whilst Mum relaxes to feed the baby. A good book to purchase for new Dads then.

Brand New Baby
Bob Graham

Bob Graham is a legend and you’ll see his work sprinkled throughout my investigation into children’s books. However the cover of this book features a bottle and there are bottles scattered on the inside covers so I wasn’t holding out much hope when I picked it up at the library. The story begins with a lot of emphasis on pregnancy, including a particularly humorous illustration of Mum being hoisted off the sofa by her children Edward and Wendy.

The family prepare for the new baby and “Dad helped too” by ironing the baby’s tiny clothes (I have issues with media that depicts Dads doing normal childcare activities as “helping” but that’s for another blog entry). When the new baby is born the other children turn up at the hospital dressed as Batman and Wonderwoman - a nice touch. A mother in the neighbouring bed can be seen bottlefeeding her newborn.

When the new baby arrives home it’s the same old story: he’s boring, he sleeps a lot, Mum and Dad never have time for Edward and Wendy, “mum was always busy feeding the baby”. One illustration shows Mum on the sofa breastfeeding the baby, another illustration shows the baby crying in its moses basket with a bottle on the floor nearby (combination feeding? Expressed breastmilk? Or lazy illustrating?) The story concludes with a sudden change of heart from Edward and Wendy and they start helping out with babycare, although it is not mentioned what prompts this transformation.

Aren’t You Lucky
Catherine and Lawrence Anholt

Here we go again, another story of sibling rivalry where breastfeeding is featured in the saddest scene of the book (there are some positive depictions of breastfeeding in some children's books, and I will get to them, honest). Written and illustrated by the same duo that created “Sophie and the New Baby” this book features another little girl whom is about to pass into big sisterhood. The text is composed in first person narrative, from the perspective of the girl (who isn’t given a name). In one scene, “Do you think he looks like me or like Daddy?” asked Mummy. “I think he looks like a raspberry” the girl responds matter of factly. In the next scene the baby is described further, “He can’t talk yet, but he can cry alright, especially when he’s hungry” and Mum is seen breastfeeding happily in bed. Lots of people come to visit the new baby, and they all say to the older sibling “Aren’t you lucky!” The girl then explains: “But sometimes I didn’t feel lucky at all” and she is shown sitting on a chair looking miserable, whilst her Mum breastfeeds on the sofa. It’s the most damning illustration of breastfeeding I have seen in a children’s book. Not until the baby is significantly older and weaning does the little girl become accepting of him. “If only I had someone who could help me. I wish I had a big girl who could feed my baby” sighs Mum. The little girl responds, “I could do that”, and she is seen spoon feeding the baby pureed banana.

The Baby’s Catalogue
Janet Ahlberg and Allan Ahlberg

There’s no bottles adorning the cover of this book, however there is one on the inside cover and several within. The book features non-fiction descriptions of various babycare items: highchairs, toys, prams, baths, and so on. There’s a page entitled “Breakfasts” which features water in a bottle and *shudder* juice in a bottle. Breastfeeding is also shown throughout the book. On one page titled “Dinners”, breastfeeding is shown alongside bottlefeeding, only the bottlefed baby is crying and appears to be refusing the bottle. Also featured are dummies, sippy cups, and interestingly, tea pots(?) It’s a pretty eclectic mix in a book that covers all bases.

All You Need to Know About Babies
Agn S Vandewiele and Charles Dutertre

With a bottle to breast ratio of 4 to 1, I was disappointed with this book, although perhaps the bottle on the cover should have given the game away. The book follows the usual pregnancy timeline. First Mum and Dad are shown in bed with no explanation, then a little bean is depicted growing inside naked Mum’s tum (surprisingly as the baby grows bigger - Mum’s breasts don’t), then the ultrasound scan (complete with foetus waving back), the obligatory eating of copious amounts of cake by the mother, Grandma knitting outfits and Dad putting together the nursery. Finally comes the (as per usual) hospital delivery, with Dad, camcorder at hand, filming as Mum lies naked in stirrups (I’d have walloped him). Mum is shown breastfeeding once, and then all other feeds are done via bottle. This is sadly realistic of course. The page that induced the most eye rolls features Dad feeding the baby via bottle whilst Mum sits beside him, cleavage heaving with pride; and yet despite the immediate presence of Mum, baby is sucking a silicone teat.

The Story of Christmas
Jane Ray

With text adapted from the words of the Bible, this book has everything you would expect from a nativity story: angels, wise men, oxen, Jesus, a stable and all that jazz. Mary is seen breastfeeding the newborn baby Jesus in not one, not two, but three illustrations; one of which shows her nipple as Jesus latches on. The illustrations are gorgeous and my simple scannings of them cannot do their vibrancy justice. Various gold enamels are used which produce a distinctive glow and the drawings are detailed enough to spark numerous re-readings. Breastfeeding is not mentioned in the text.

Baby’s First Year
Debbie Mackinnon and Anthea Sieveking

Baby’s First Year is another non-fiction title similar to The Baby’s Catalogue but using photographs rather than illustrations. This book follows the life of baby Jack from one day old to his first birthday. Dad and siblings are shown happily taking part in babycare. On the page titled “One week” the book describes that “Jack drinks milk from his mummy” accompanied by a photograph of breastfeeding. Curiously there are bottles at the top of this page, presumably to show the alternative. I find it interesting that weaning onto solids is not shown until 8 months. Overall the book is a decent exploration of babyhood, with some baby-wearing thrown in for good measure.

Jump to Part Two