By Mndy Rhiger
Stories are a way of exploring our world. They help us to make sense of who we are or who we could be. Stories can be windows into different worlds, or they can be mirrors reflecting our own world.
We don’t want to overlook the importance of stories as mirrors for our children since, as early childhood literacy educator Carolyn Munson-Benson writes in Playful Reading, “A child often will pay more attention to a story that mirrors his people, her culture, and familiar aspects of family life.” As non-mainstream families, how can we find stories that mirror our lives and our choices? It may be a challenge to find familiar aspects of our family lives in children’s literature, but it is not impossible.
Families that choose homebirth are likely to turn to Jenni Overend’s Welcome With Love when they are ready to talk about birth to the children in their family. It is narrated by a little boy as the family prepares for and experiences a homebirth. The illustrations depect the mother in the throes of childbirth, the baby emerging from her body, and the mother holding her baby with the umbilical cord still attached. The story is gentle enough for preschoolers, but certainly frank enough for older children who are ready for a discussion about how babies come into the world at home with their families.
Breastfeeding may not be that far outside of the mainstream anymore, but it is still unusual to find books that show nursing babies. Hello Baby! by Lizzy Rockwell is one notable exception. It is a great book to share with soon-to-be siblings who want to know more about what life will be like once the baby is born. In addition to sleeping, bathing, and crying, the baby is shown eating at the mother’s breast with a brief mention that “Mommy’s breasts make milk that is the perfect food for a baby.” Cathryn Falwell’s We Have a Baby is similar but simpler in scope. Each spread has one short sentence about what the baby can do or what we can do for him or her. One spread shows the mother nursing the baby on one side while cuddling an older child to her other side. The family looks happy, comfortable, and full of love.
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon is a lovely, poetic look at our diverse world. It is illustrated by Marla Frazee, and one easy-to-miss illustration shows a nursing mama. It isn’t a major part of the book by any means. I have to admit that I missed it my first time through. But the book and its illustrations are a beautiful celebration of all that our world contains.
For those looking to celebrate breastfeeding in itself, Mama’s Milk by Michael Elsohn Ross is a great choice. This small picture book begins with a human nursing pair in bed with the father asleep as they nurse in the wee hours. Then we turn the pages to see pigs, horses, elephants, and more also nursing their young. In the middle of the book, a full spread shows a park scene where a human mother is nursing uncovered while sharing a picnic lunch with an older child. You can use this book to show your child a view of breastfeeding as natural and accepted or teach them about animals, reminding them of one thing we have in common with other mammals.
The illustration in Mama’s Milk of a baby in a sling may have you wondering where you can see more of that in picture books. A Ride on Mother’s Back takes us on a world sightseeing tour of babywearing, and What Can You Do with a Rebozo? shows babywearing a one possibility with the versatile garment.
Co-sleeping families may not be thrilled with the situation in Back to Bed, Ed by Sebastien Braun in which a young mouse transitions from a crib to a bed. But some families will note that Ed’s baby sibling sleeps in a crib next to the parents’ bed. Perhaps this is as close to co-sleeping as the picture book world is ready to get. At least, for now.
These books may not be bestsellers. You may have to special order them at your local bookseller or find them at the library. But don’t overlook the importance of sharing them with your little ones. These stories may be an important step in building a lifelong love of reading.