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