By Christina Krost
As I sit at my computer typing, I hear Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood reboot on PBS, singing from the next room: “When a baby makes things different, find a way to make things fun.” It’s good advice even for me, an experienced mom of three who stopped having time to read parenting books before baby #3 came along.
My youngest daughter, Harper, is obsessed with all things Daniel Tiger and baby dolls, so this episode is pretty much on repeat all the live long day. She is my final baby, so she will never know what it’s like to transition from baby to big sister. But after preparing my two older daughters for this life change in the past I know that each girl reacted to the news differently: one with indifference, the other with absolute joy. As the wife of a mainline Christian pastor, I’ve observed many family configurations over the years and since all families are different, I’ve included books that span cultures and include adoption and fostering. So, once you’ve ordered the “I’m a Big Brother/Sister t-shirt,” add a few of these books that have helped my own children with this transition to your bookshelves. Start with some reading just for you and your partner and then move on to kids’ books.
The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, Ph.D, David R. Cross, Ph.D, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine (2007)
If I were considering fostering or adopting a child, this would be the first book I picked up. It contains a balance of charts and graphs with narratives about what children may have experienced before coming to their new parent’s home. It’s full of practical solutions to common behavioral and social problems and offers clues about a child’s development that may have led to such behaviors. It’s well organized but might initially seem overwhelming. Note that a quick search through the table of contents might help give timely answers to pressing questions. I find the book to be a gentle, loving, and practical way to welcome your new child into your family.
Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham (2015)
If I were looking for a list of ways to help my children adapt to a new sibling through birth or adoption, this would be my absolute first choice. Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids has devoted the last third of her newest book to the time before welcoming the new baby and through the baby’s first year (previously reviewed at Brain, Child). She has a gentle approach to parenting that focuses on setting up a peaceful home environment and likens a child’s development to the rings of a tree: daily experiences and interactions are shaping your children into the people they will be for the rest of their lives. She focuses on peer modeling for how to cope with successes and failures so that our children can learn from us, and in turn model appropriate behavior for younger siblings. This is the book I wished I’d had before welcoming my second daughter in 2009.
I’m a Big Sister and I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole (1997)
I gave I’m a Big Sister to my oldest daughter when she came to meet her baby sister, Ava, in the hospital. It’s well-worn and loved and served us well when we welcomed daughter #3 almost 5 years later. It’s very light and easy for a toddler or preschooler to understand and attend to. Though it references bottles over breastfeeding, it also features a father in a nurturing role. There is a short note to parents on the last page with tips to ease the new baby transition and ends with, “A caring family has plenty of love to go around.”
My Mom’s Having a Baby! by Dori Hillestad Butler (2005)
This book is for older children and illustrates month-by-month how a baby grows and develops in utero. It is written from a child’s perspective. There is an age-appropriate discussion of how babies are made using correct anatomical names (penis, vagina, cervix, uterus, sperm, egg). The father is seen in a supportive role. This book would have been helpful for my then eight year-old when welcoming her baby sister, but probably would have been too much information for my four year-old.
You Were the First by Patricia MacLachlan (2013)
This beautifully illustrated hardcover from Patricia MacLachlan of Sarah, Plain and Tall fame is gentle and lovely and focuses on milestones in baby’s first year. Both mother and father are featured as loving and nurturing caregivers. The family pet is included on most pages as well, an important part of the transition in many families. The book is not written as if a new baby is imminent but as a reassurance that the first child will always have a special place in the family.
Welcoming Babies by Margy Burns Knight (1994)
This book is a wonderful treasury of global cultural practices around welcoming new babies. It includes activities like singing, kissing, touching, blessing, announcing, and promising. It is very inclusive and features Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. There are pages devoted to premature babies that do not get to come home to their families right away and adopted babies who have two special days: their birth date and their adoption date. Families of many different colors and ages are featured. The text is straightforward and encourages the reader to find commonalities in their birth celebrations. The additional notes section at the back of the book further explains these commonalities.
We Belong Together by Todd Parr (2007)
This book is for those who are expanding their family through adoption, but the book’s message is great for all families: a family is a place to share love. This book is also quite inclusive and includes an author’s note at the beginning instructing families to change pronouns to suit their needs. The illustrations are very bright and colorful and are made to look as if a child had drawn them and the language is very accessible for kids of all ages. This book, like most of Todd Parr’s other books such as The Family Book and It’s Okay to Make Mistakes, are family favorites.
The New Small Person by Lauren Child (2014)
Lauren Child’s characters Charlie and Lola are family favorites, so when I kid-tested this book it was quickly approved. It also sparked an interesting conversation with my oldest about what it was like to become a big sister for the first time. This book describes the transition an older only child, Elmore, makes when his little brother comes on the scene. Elmore loves being the “funniest, cleverist, most adorable person someone has ever seen.” But that all changes when the new small person arrives. He doesn’t like his brother touching his carefully lined-up things or changing the TV channel, but by the end of the story Elmore realizes life is more fun with two.
Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats (1967)
This book by Ezra Jack Keats, author of the classic The Snowy Day (the first full-color picture book to feature an African-American main character), takes on how hard life can be for a preschooler when a new baby arrives. Peter is admonished by his mother for making too much noise knocking over his block tower, so he decides to take what few things haven’t been repurposed for the new baby and run away. He grabs his chair, a picture of himself as a baby, and his dog. He sets up shop outside and realizes he’s too big for his chair. So he returns to his family and happily helps to paint his beloved chair pink for his new little sister. Both mom and dad are featured in nurturing roles. This classic book is a quick read and will hold the attention of preschool children and younger.
101 Things to Do with Baby by Jan Ormerod (1994)
This graphic-novel style book is a perfect way to show young children how to integrate a new baby into their regular routines like mealtime, laundry, playtime, and other small family moments. It is gentle and loving and illustrates how families have enough love for everyone. Both father and mother characters are shown in nurturing roles. There are even pages devoted to what to do when older children feel frustrated or jealous about the attention the new baby receives. This story is driven by the pictures and has limited text, making it suitable for children(and parents!) of all ages.
Christina Krost is teacher, mother, and United Methodist pastor’s wife who works for an Earth care non-profit. She lives with her husband and three young daughters in rural central Illinois and blogs at http://www.5matches.com/.