Let’s hear it for the where-do-babies-come-from picture book of the 21st century, Sophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree! If any author-illustrator working today is going to address this topic—the one that makes parents squirm the most—I’m glad it’s Blackall. She does so with wit and honesty, never once talking down to children. And she executes it with her distinctive Chinese-ink and watercolor illustrations—and with good humor to boot.
A young boy narrates the tale. He’s having a typical morning until his parents announce at breakfast that they’re going to have a baby. The boy is filled with questions, but his parents have to go to work, so he asks everyone else: the teenager who walks him to school; a teacher; his grandpa; and the mailman. He gets tiny nuggets of truth from each. The blushing mailman, for instance, stops after telling him babies merely come from eggs. With responses about planting seeds that grow into babies (hence, the book’s title) and storks, not to mention the typical they-come-from-the-hospital reply, the boy is mighty confused. (For the latter, Blackall paints a building with babies at every window and a line of swaddled babes filing out the front door. It’s funny stuff.)
At bedtime he asks his parents, who give him the truth. Their response incorporates the notion of seeds from the father being planted into an egg inside the mother, as well as the idea that most babies are born in hospitals. Only Grandpa’s stork theory is way off. (He’ll have to set him straight later, the boy decides.)
And what makes The Baby Tree the where-do-babies-come-from picture book of the 21st century? In a closing Q&A for parents, which includes recommended (and refreshingly honest) responses to the big questions (yes, external sex organs are named), not only does Blackall get fairly detailed about reproduction, but she includes the following: “What about babies who have two moms or two dads?” This is something you won’t often see in where-do-babies-come-from picture books of yore. Here’s to progress.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.