a Young Journalist
Center for Children's Books
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by James Solheim; illus. by Simon James
It’s hard to acquire a new sibling, to move from being the only child
or baby of the family to being just part of the scenery for the
all-important new little person. Children’s literature is filled
with treatments of that situation, from the humorous (Lloyd-Jones’ How to Be a Baby . . . by Me, the Big
Sister, BCCB 4/07) to the reassuring (Ballard’s I Used to Be the Baby). But does
anybody stop to think about the trials undergone by the poor baby?
To the rescue comes James Solheim, speaking up for the preverbal—or, to
be more precise, providing a platform for a precocious infant who may
be preverbal but who’s nonetheless keeping tight records of the whole
baby experience. Starting right from birth (“If I’d known I was going
to be born in public, I’d at least have put on a tank top”), our
narrator, gender and name unknown, is a keen observer of the infant
state. The intrepid little reporter records observations in dated
entries throughout the first year of his/her life, covering subjects
such as baby toys (“I mean, it’s only a green star shape on a string,
but it twirls and sparkles and taunts
me”), motor skills (“My hands can do more than just write. They can
grab things! I made a mental list of things to grab . . . ”), and
growth (“With my new high-chair workout, I plan to be big by Friday”).
Looming largest of all in the account, however, is the narrator’s
magnificent big sister (“She is like some kind of monkey-bar superstar
or something! . . . Note to myself: Imitate that girl. . . . Every
second of every day, be just like her”).
It’s a giggle-worthy account from start to finish, a splendidly absurd
cross between omniscient-pet tale and twisted take on new-baby stories.
Our protagonist is particularly funny when provoked to indignation in
protests that kids will find hilarious, especially if read aloud with
self-righteous verve (“All I get is a pacifier, which is this pretend
food on a ring”; “Maybe I’ll take a job as a baby in a different
family”). Yet the intense focus on the older sibling is a genuinely
welcome complement to stories about people’s focusing on the new kid,
and underneath the humor is a bolstering and, honestly, heart-warming
truth—when you acquire a little sibling, you become somebody’s hero.
(And target, and curse, and scourge, of course, but also hero.)
Illustrator James, who cut his teeth on the Baby Brains books (Baby Brains, BCCB 1/05, etc.),
brings the same breezy insouciance to the line-and-watercolor art here.
Quick vignettes, drafted in scrawls that recall James Stevenson or
Quentin Blake, gain impact from washes of color; the round-headed baby
manages to simultaneously look both as clueless as everyone assumes and
as knowing as the journal suggests. The illustrations float against
white space on oversized pages, the “young journalist” conceit
underscored by the blue-lined-paper effect that fills the backgrounds
and, niftily, actually provides the line spacing for the text.
A refreshing contrast to the more familiar new-sib picture books, this
may subtly encourage youngsters to consider both the poor newcomer’s
POV and their own considerable achievements even in a few short years.
And even as it bolsters their status, it’ll give them something to
laugh about amid the poopy diapers.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Cover image from Born
Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist
©2010 by Simon James. Used by permission of Philomel Books.
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This page was last updated on May 1, 2010.