Finding Breastfeeding-Friendly Children's Books
Cheryl Peachey Stoner
Hesston KS USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, p. 280
Have you ever scanned the shelves in the children's section at your favorite bookstore or library and wondered, "Where are the books about us?" Recently my boys and I were browsing in a bookstore. My five-year-old picked up a story about a family of rabbits who dearly loved their new little baby. In the illustration on one of the opening pages, the baby bunny was sucking away on a bottle he was holding himself! My son looked up at me, confused, and said, "But Mom, rabbits are mammals!" Despite the humor in the situation, it made me sad to see that the messages my children receive from children's books do not often reflect our family life.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a shelf reserved for "breastfeeding-friendly" books? When La Leche League began, it recognized the need for such books and published, in 1977, GERALD THE THIRD. Now out of print, it's the classic about nursing families. Today, with a plethora of children's books available, surely there are more books that show nursing children in a positive light and as the norm. But how to search through them all?
Over the years, the LLLI Book Evaluation Committee has gleaned through many of them. You can find a list of over 50 wonderful children's books about breastfeeding families at www.llli.org/BEC/additChildrensBooks.html. Chances are that your children will love seeing children like them portrayed in these books! Three recent additions to this list are A Gift for Baby, by Jan Hunt and illustrated by Sunny Rosanbalm; Near Mama's Heart, by Colleen Newman; and The Wonders of Mother's Milk, by Mishawn Purnell-O'Neal and illustrated by Dana TC Simpson.
When considering a book specifically written with breastfeeding families in mind, I often find myself asking, "Is it really different from other children's books? Does it show breastfeeding as normal and enjoyable for mother and baby? On the other hand, is it a little 'over the top?' Would 'mainstream' families be offended by this book?"
I've learned to let the experts -- my children -- help me decide if they're comfortable with the way a book depicts us. One book that they love is A Gift for Baby. Told from a baby's point of view, it is a guessing game. The opening page shows a large present with fancy paper and bow. The diaper-clad baby wonders what's inside, "Is it a picture?" The next page shows him patting his mother's face with the words, "I'd rather look at Mommy." This pattern continues throughout until the final page, when Daddy opens the box to show that it is Mommy herself who is the "gift for baby." My children love the page where Mommy is jumping out of the box!
My personal favorite among these three titles is Near Mama's Heart. The illustrations are gorgeous photos by the author, depicting a wide variety of nursing couples and families. Some of the photos may push the boundaries of your comfort zone, as they did mine, but they are so beautiful and tasteful that they gently eased me into a wider comfort zone. The text is written in fun rhyming couplets.
In The Wonder's of Mother's Milk, the rhyme and rhythm are a little more forced and awkward at times. However, the information can't be argued with, the illustrations are warm and inviting, and after a few read-throughs, it's easy enough to compensate for the tricky meter. This book is intended for older children who may be unfamiliar with breastfeeding, and would be a good introduction for anyone new to breastfeeding culture.
My children think all three of these books are "the best books ever!" I think it's because they can relate to them so well, and know them to be true. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful breastfeeding-friendly books to choose from, and hopefully there will only be more to choose from as time goes by. Maybe someday they really will be the norm.
If you would like to let the Book Evaluation Committee know about a great children's book, email Krissi Gayle and Sara Walters, BEC co-chairs, at chair at lllibec.org. May your breastfeeding-family-friendly library grow and thrive!