Saturday, 3 March 2012

Images of Breastfeeding in Children’s Books: Part Four

Following on from Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

Hi New Baby!
Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley

A new baby makes everyone happy: mums, dads, grandmas, granddads; which is a pain in the arse if you’re the one used to being the baby. Never mind eh, at least you can feature in yet another children’s story about bitter sibling rivalry. This time the narrative is told from the perspective of the Dad. “I bet the baby will like having a big sister” and other reassuring paternal utterances counter the bitterness ever so common in first siblings. The baby is tiny, it’s boring, it’s loud, it can’t feed itself, it burps up, it can’t use the toilet, and it doesn’t have any teeth. In essence it’s an uber disappointment to the older sibling. Breastfeeding is not mentioned in the text yet an entire A4 page spread is devoted to a dinnertime scene showing Mum, Dad and the elder sibling sharing a meal whilst baby suckles, its little hand clutching at Mum’s top. Although textually the storyline is predictable, the characters bland, and the narrative stiff and erratic, the book is redeemed by its lavishly detailed, atmospheric illustrations. From the newborn’s wrinkly hand to the older sibling’s furrowed brow, one can’t resist but shed a tear at the tender conclusion which sees the older sibling cradling her baby brother and whispering softly in his ear.


Over the Green Hills
Rachel Isadora

There’s no denying that author-illustrator Rachel Isadora is an accomplished artist. Her double page spreads with dominating watercolour cloud-scapes are as serene as they are breathtaking. However her writing fails to match the high standard set by her illustrations. Over the Green Hills tells the story of a boy, his baby sister and his mother who travel over said green hills, to visit Grandma. During their trek the mother, who is babywearing, stops to rest and breastfeed. To call the story simplistic would be an understatement. The narrative seems to ignore all conventions of good storytelling. On their journey the characters encounter a series of random events, each unrelated to the last. For instance, a man selling sticks, a pig stuck down a hole, a stray ostrich. As the reader we make a mental note of these events in preparation for the book’s conclusion which we hope will reveal their purpose. However we are not rewarded with such a climax, or indeed any climax at all. The (bland and emotionless) characters reach Grandma’s home – the end. There are more effective multicultural books than this.


We Have a Baby
Cathryn Falwell

Unlike the above book, We Have a Baby manages to be simplistic whilst simultaneously portraying a depth of human emotion. Both the text and illustrations are minimal with no more than six words on each page. The narrative describes each facet of newborn care, from washing to carrying, rocking, dressing and so on. The double page spread devoted to ‘feeding’ shows a multitasking mother happily nursing her baby whilst cradling her older child on her lap. Mum has freshly plucked eyebrows, neatly applied lipstick, tidy hair and earrings; not at all like the ragged hippy format commonly applied to breastfeeding mothers. The experience of the older sibling is shown optimistically with facial expressions of excitement, awe, contentment and curiosity adorning each page. Cut-paper artwork with the texture of crayon drawings perfectly encapsulates the various cosy familial scenes.


Let’s Talk
Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley

Here’s one of those politically correct sex guides again. It has everything you would expect from a book about reproduction: bulging bumps, foetal timelines, anatomically correct diagrams, comedy sperm, flirtatious eggs, and adults wresting in bed whilst being spied on by fluttering hearts. The book uses two characters to guide young readers through this intimidating subject – a bird and a bee (see what they did there?) The bird is a caricature of the kind of child you hope you never have. It’s hyper, over-curious and full of ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. The bee is much more reserved, verging on embarrassed by the whole sordid palaver. The illustrations are all-inclusive, ensuring that every facet of human life is accounted for. There’s many colours of people, old people, young people, skinny yummy mummies, fat obese slob mummies, a token wheelchair,  even a random Scottish dude. Topics covered are predictable. The book begins with locating a boy and girl’s private parts on various diagrams. This is followed by the usual sperm meets egg saga, and then by fetus growing in size “from pinpoint to watermelon”. The miniscule section on infant feeding merely comments that: “The new baby can drink from its mummy’s breasts or from a bottle. Milk from the mummy’s breasts or special milk from a bottle is all the food a new baby needs”. This text is accompanied by a refreshing illustration of a mother breastfeeding twins.


My New Baby (2009 edition)
Rachel Fuller

This popular board book uses simple conversational text and lively illustrations to explore the common experiences associated with the arrival of a new baby. The detailed illustrations are excellent at sparking discussion with their combination of crayoned drawings, patterned materials and ripped paper. Everyday familial scenes include a morning breastfeed (hinting at co-sleeping), nappy changing, getting dressed, dinner time (more nursing), going for a walk (baby-wearing), bath time, story time, and bedtime. While the baby breastfeeds, the elder sibling enjoys a sandwich. While the baby has its nappy changed, the elder sibling is shown using the potty. During an outdoor walk the baby rides in a sling while the elder sibling walks alongside. These scenes prompt discussions about growing up, timelines, differing abilities and self-care. The sturdy pages are the perfect size for young children. I adore the simplistic and cute character design, so much so that a few of these illustrations have reigned on my Facebook profile.



My New Baby (2000 edition)
Annie Kubler

This is the older edition of the above book. The publisher is the same and some of the illustrations mirror each other, however there are clear differences. The book is smaller than its successor, the illustrator is different, and there is no text. The illustrations are sufficiently detailed to compensate for the lack of text, although their endearing quality is slightly weaker. The same cosy familial scenes include grandparents visiting, a party, snuggling on the sofa, playing with toys, and reading a story. Like its successor this book features breastfeeding twice; firstly there’s a close-up illustration of Mum nursing on the sofa with her elder child happily watching (my local library thought it necessary to stick a label over this illustration – I, naturally, peeled it off) and later in the book, Dad and the elder child are preparing lunch whilst Mum relaxes, nursing in the background.



Everywhere Babies
Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee

This book uses the words of its title “Everywhere Babies” to begin each page spread. For instance, the book commences with: “Every day, everywhere, babies are born” and then continues with “Every day, everywhere, babies are kissed”. Other actions include, “babies are dressed”, “babies are rocked”, “babies make noise”, and so on. On the spread titled, “Every day, everywhere, babies are fed” the text continues... “by bottle, by breast, with cups and with spoons; with milk, and then cereal, carrots, and prunes”. Accompanying illustrations show a mother dosing in a rocking chair whilst breastfeeding, a father bottlefeeding, and various stages of weaning. The lively rhyming narrative perfectly compliments the richly detailed illustrations which beam with personality. On the spread titled, “Every day, everywhere, babies are carried”, the exhaustive illustration shows adults carrying babies in backpacks, front packs, in slings, on shoulders, etc. There is a wealth of multicultural family life to explore, from Granddads playing peek-a-boo, to Dad’s kissing their babies tummies, and siblings splashing in a paddling pool. Each is sure to provoke a smile.


You, Me and the Breast
Monica Calaf and Mikel Fuentes

‘You, Me and the Breast’ is one of an influx of pro-breastfeeding books to enter the market recently. Wacky, eccentric illustrations abound on every page, and you will either love or hate them. However one thing is certain - you will have nothing but love for the text, which has everything an attachment-parent could hope for:  skin-to-skin, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, nursing in public, extended breastfeeding, the works. The narrative is told from the perspective of a mother talking to her grown child about the nursing relationship they once shared. From the newborn’s first nuzzle of the breast, through to the toddler seeking comfort after a fall, and then ending with gradual weaning. The words give a tender, thorough and un-patronising account of the joys of breastfeeding. One aspect that was particularly well-represented was the convenience of being able to nurse anywhere at any time. The mother is shown nursing in a coffee shop with other mums (although I am wary of the simultaneous drinking of scalding hot tea), nursing in the park, nursing in the swimming pool, nursing whilst cooking at the stove (again, a possible safety issue), nursing whilst shopping, and even nursing whilst exercising at the same time as reading (why don’t the NCT teach that position?) The book is also well-apt at dispelling common breastfeeding myths. It shows breastfeeding a tooth-laden baby commenting that, “I helped you learn to suck without biting”. It also mentions that a breastfeeding mother has plenty of time to herself: “Often you fell asleep after breastfeeding I took the opportunity to do my own thing”. The mother is shown reclining in a relaxing bubble-bath. I was impressed by the comprehensiveness of this book and would recommend it for any lactivist’s bookshelf.





The Mystery of the Breast
Victoria de Aboitiz

Published by the same folks as ‘You, Me and the Breast’, this book is equally pro-breastfeeding and the illustrations are equally unconventional. Stylised pencil sketches feature characters with facial features that are slightly distorted in a bizarre, foetal-alcohol-syndrome type of way. Tiny eyes accompany tiny noses alongside massive chins. On a plus side, the boobs look great. Prominent brown nipples salute you on every page. If you’re of a hippy nature, you’ll love the flowery and sentimental narrative told from the perspective of the older sibling: “My dad told me that breastfeeding isn’t just about giving food. It is also about giving love!” (Someone pass me a bucket). Unfortunately this narrative style makes the breastfeeding mother sound like a kind of invalid: “When grandpa comes he brings delicious food, so mum can get back her strength and her body can make milk. Auntie helps us to tidy up because it is important that mummy gets some rest.” (Hmmm, perhaps I should pass this book around my relatives?) Another discrepancy is that the family in the story seem to inhabit a different society to the one we live in. At the sight of a nursing mother people stop to let her past so she doesn’t have to wait, on the bus everyone gives her a seat, neighbours give her gifts, men reading newspapers smile at her knowingly. The optimistic text then beams: “Animals understand each other without words. My mum and my brother understand each other through love!” (Where’s that bucket again?) I suspect to compliment her hippy lifestyle the author indulged in ganja from time to time. Not only is this suggested by the whimsical, metaphorical nature of the text: “The mystery of the breast can turn a noisy storm of tears into laughter, calm, and soft singing”, it is also apparent in the far-out illustrations; One shows a gleeful baby flying through a fiery sky amongst bulbous breast clouds with erect nipples. The book doesn’t do any favours for alleviating the stereotype that breastfeeding mothers are peculiar, organic-eating, earth-mother hippies. However if you’re one of the people that fits this description you’ll lap it all up regardless. Overall this is an honourable attempt at familiarising children with the art of breastfeeding, although sadly not my cup of tea.





Best Milk
Kate Carothers

Best Milk is the charming story of a little girl’s curiosity with breastfeeding. When her new baby sibling arrives Mum explains that she’s feeding breastmilk. The little girl mishears her mother and instead thinks she said “best milk”. She then goes on to describe all the wonders of “best milk”. You don’t have to be a lactivist to appreciate the genius play on words here. The narrative is very thorough, covering all aspects of breastfeeding. What is most refreshing is that the book capitalises on the convenience of breastfeeding, completely rebutting the myth often advocated in children’s books that breastfeeding is burdensome. The family are shown breastfeeding in the park, grocery store, at the beach, and even at the funfair. Mum breastfeeds sitting, lying down, while eating, standing, and walking. Unlike ‘You, Me and the Breast’ the scenarios depicted in ‘Best Milk’ are safe, realistic and plausible. There’s not a hot drink or stove in sight, and babywearing is often shown as a means to facilitate discrete public breastfeeding. Another popular children’s book myth – that breastfeeding means Mum has less time for older siblings – is also invalidated. The text explains that: “Even though our baby best feeds a lot, Mommy still has lots of time for me”. The accompanying illustration shows Mum lying down breastfeeding whilst doing a jigsaw with her older child. Rugged, chisel-jawed father is depicted throughout the book, fully engrossed in family life, reading stories, bathing the children, building sandcastles, and so on.

As this book was written by a certified lactation consultant the content has a high standard of detail and accuracy. My favourite page depicts Mum expressing milk. “Which side is going to win?” asks her daughter. The illustration shows Mum using a double breastpump (appears to be the Medela Freestyle) with one side extracting more milk than the other, a common occurrence in human lactation. Another page shows the little girl breastfeeding her doll. The book’s only flaw in my opinion is that some of the illustrations appear somewhat amateurish; a misshapen nose here, an anatomically incorrect hand there. However these oversights do not negate the quality of the other illustrations, narrative and message.





Jump to: Part Five

1 comments:

Deborah said...

I love this series of posts! I wish I'd seen it when I was looking for books for my soon-to-be-elder daughter. So glad to know there are good books out there with lovely pictures of breastfeeding as the norm, although I know these are only a small percentage of the "new baby" books. I found one: Mama's Milk by Michael Elsohn Ross. I love it.

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