At 36 weeks pregnant, a lot of people ask if my toddler is excited for the new baby. This gives me an opportunity to show them my favorite parlor trick. I say “She’s SO excited! Aren’t you excited, honey? Say hi to Brother!” She waves at my round belly, says “Hi brother!” and gives it a little kiss. Everyone melts, they tell her that she’s a good sister, they are glad to see that she already loves her brother.
They have no idea that she also talks to “the brother” in Daddy’s tummy. She’s two years old, people. She doesn’t get it.
Knowing that her world is only weeks away from total confusion, I did what any parent who relies heavily on their intuition would do. I bought books.
There are a lot of books on the market to help parents of little ones “get it.” They run the gamut from anecdotal fiction to anatomically correct toddler-textbooks. Sorting through lists of recommendations, I specifically looked for three qualities:
1) The book should set expectations for life with a new baby around. It helps little people to adjust to a new reality when they’ve seen pictures of it before.
2) The book should model positive behavioral responses to the arrival of the new baby. Kids want to do what they see other people do, even characters in books. Not what they see LAST, mind you, but what they see MOST.
SIDE NOTE – In many children’s books and educational programs, the main character is shown exhibiting the wrong behavior for the first 90% of the book or show, and then changes to the correct behavior for the last 10% (I.E. Green Eggs and Ham). Studies show that this formula reinforces the bad behavior 9x more because it is displayed 9x more. Makes sense, if you think about it. So when you’re choosing books and TV shows, keep track of the good behavior:bad behavior ratio demonstrated by the main characters.
3) The book should not make me want to stab myself in the eye with a rectal thermometer every time I read it. Because if my kid likes the book, we’ll be reading it a lot.
The first two books to arrive from Amazon turned out to be ideal examples of the best and worst books possible.
Let’s start with the worst book, shall we? It’s more fun that way.
There’s Going to be a Baby
This book came with very high praise. It made the “Best Children’s Book of the Year” list for both Publisher’s Weekly and the Boston Globe.
Here, we see the fantasies of a little boy trying (and failing) to imagine what it means to have a new sibling. Like “here are pictures of the baby working at a bank.” Cute illustrations. Not helpful.
The book also airs the child’s dark resentment for their new sibling – like asking if mommy can send the baby back, and at one point wishing for the baby to be eaten by a tiger. (Yes, a tiger. What the hell?!)
The last page leaves off with our little protagonist entering the hospital asking “We’re going to love the baby, aren’t we?” The End. We never see what life is like with a new non-banker baby sibling and we never see the main character react to their arrival in a positive way. (We do, however, see the protagonists’ wee-wee while he’s taking a bath. Because full frontal child nudity is always in good taste.)
Sets expectations – 0
Models good behavior – 0
Likelihood of eye stabbing – 4.5
Little Miss finds out she’s going to be a Big Sis. She gets excited. She waits for the baby. She quietly admires the baby. She helps with the baby. She loves to play with the baby. She tolerates it when the baby drools on her, takes her toys and pulls her hair. My kid LOVES this book.
The words are very few, which means I can talk more about what’s happening in the pictures if I want to embellish (“See the baby in his bassinet? Just like the bassinet in mommy’s room where YOUR baby brother will sleep!”) or I can stick to the minimal words when we’re reading it for the tenth time in an hour.
Best of all, after reading this book, she’s showing signs of actually “getting it.”
Sets expectations – 10
Models good behavior – 10
Likelihood of eye stabbing – 1
Below is a list of some of the most highly recommended books for preparing young soon-to-be siblings for the arrival of a baby. My advice is to check your library or local bookstore and read the book for yourself before you buy it. Because the critics have obviously lost their minds.
High scorers –
Low scorers –
Darcy and Gran don’t like Babies
I wish I was the Baby
Benny and Beautiful Baby Delilah
Back into Mommy’s Tummy
Pecan Pie Baby
Know someone who is expecting their second child? Follow this series to learn how to make the transition easy on their firstborn.
Emma Fulenwider is a professional biographer who writes other people’s stories and sometimes her own. Book junkie and amateur impressionist, she lives in Sacramento with her husband and two kids.
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