I discovered “Everywhere Babies” in the most appropriate of places – my OB/GYN’s office. I had an appointment for a blood test to confirm my third pregnancy and, because the news was still under wraps, I had to tote both daughters along with me.
I imagined needles plus two toddlers was going to make for a scary equation, so I grabbed a few battered picture books from the waiting room and told the girls to sit quietly and read in the chair next to me while my blood was drawn. Fortunately for me, the literature kept them happy, so much so that my youngest, Charlotte, begged to take her book home with us when we left.
With 50 irresistibly cute babies illustrated on the dust jacket alone, it’s no wonder Charlotte was captivated. Whereas my oldest never gave a baby doll a passing glance, Charlotte has a nursery full of them, all named “Baby,” and she’s drawn to infant car seat carriers like a moth drawn to flame.
When it comes to books, however, shall we say Charlotte’s taste is more selective? Few books hold her attention for long, so I’m always quick to indulge her when her interest is apparent. I put the title to memory and, via the wonders of Amazon shipping, Susan Meyers’ “Everywhere Babies” arrived on our doorstep a few days later without further review.
As a result, it came as a delightful surprise that one of my favorite author/illustrators, Marla Frazee, had produced the art for this book. Better yet, her illustrations offer an otherwise simple book a complex look at the diversity of families.
Published in 2001, “Everywhere Babies” has much in common with Mem Fox’s “Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes,” which topped all the lists of best children’s books in 2008 and also sits high on Charlotte’s list of favorites. Both books celebrate the universality of babyhood.
Fox compares babies born in different countries and different circumstances, from hillsides to cities and igloos to tents. But she emphasizes that there’s really little that truly differentiates them, for they all have “ten little fingers and ten little toes.”
The babies of this book, charmingly illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, seem to grasp this concept; they’re captured playing merrily together, bound by the common joys of infancy rather than divided by differences in language, ethnicity or nationality.
Similarly, “Everywhere Babies” celebrates the familiar milestones of a baby’s first year, from birth to that messy slice of birthday cake. Author Susan Meyers said she was inspired to write the book after the birth of her first grandchild, when she suddenly started noticing babies everywhere.
Although we often have tunnel vision after the birth of our own children, heralding our one-of-a-kind baby’s every facial expression and accomplishment, one begins to realize, as Meyers beautifully puts it, “Every day, everywhere, babies are born,” and each of those babies is treasured and loved as much as our own.
It’s humbling to be reminded that, in every city, state and country, there are hundreds, thousands, millions of babies being cuddled, kissed, fed and rocked. And those babies, as miraculously as we once did, are learning to crawl, run, jump and talk.
While Meyers’ beautifully rhythmic text highlights the commonalities of our start in the world, Marla Frazee’s abundant illustrations illuminate that these similarities exist regardless of differences in our cultures and families. Ever so subtly, but all so importantly, Frazee has depicted families in which babies are cared for my mothers, fathers, older family members, adoptive parents and both same-sex and interracial couples.
While Ames is considered progressive as far as Iowa goes, families here and in other small towns throughout the country have a much more homogeneous appearance. For those of us raising families in such environments, “Everywhere Babies” offers our children a valuable glimpse at some of the different but equally suitable ways families are formed without any overly-political, in-your-face statements like “some families have two mommies and some families have two daddies.”
I underscore the word “glimpse” because Frazee’s images of less-traditional families are given no more emphasis, and certainly less frequency, than the many other endearing illustrations in this book. Above all, Frazee’s illustrations depict just how much each of these babies is loved by the people in their lives, regardless of those caretakers’ gender, race or age.
Among it’s many messages, however, the offering that I found most powerful in this book was its representation of how quickly a baby progresses from infancy on the opening pages to her first birthday, and the end of babyhood, at the book’s conclusion. As it’s often said, “They don’t stay babies forever,” and Meyers and Frazee have done a beautiful job of reminding us to cherish this brief period while it lasts.