By Sylvie Kantorovitz
Charlesbridge Press, $14.95, 32 pages
Jacob is going to be a big brother. He is both happy and worried because while a baby might be fun to play with, she might steal his toys. And what if Mommy and Daddy stop loving him the most? Time for the baby to arrive! Oh no! Something has gone wrong. She is premature and very small – too small. What does this mean for Jacob and his family? There are plenty of books on the market celebrating the birth of a new healthy, big baby. But what if the baby isn’t healthy? What if she is dangerously small – so small she might not survive at all? How do you explain this all-too-real scenario to an older sibling who is experiencing the normal feelings that come with gaining a new family member plus the stress of a health crisis? Author Sylvie Kantorovitz’s The Very Tiny Baby is an invaluable children’s book that is quite unique. Based on her own experiences as a sister and mother coping with premature babies, Kantorovitz offers a resource for parents, grandparents or any caretaker with the goal of helping ease the tension and anxiety in a house surprised by the arrival of a preemie.
Written in a child’s scrapbook format, the book shares Jacob’s wealth of feelings as he learns about his very tiny, special new sister. The colors used reflect Jacob’s emotions (yellow and white represent happiness about a new family member he can play with and love, but red and black represent fear, anger, uncertainty and doubt). Jacob expresses very real feelings that parents will likely see in siblings of premature babies. Imagine having to cope with the regular thoughts of jealousy on top of a fear that the new baby might die. This is what Jacob is going through with only his grandmother to help as his parents spend all day and night at the hospital.
Kantorovitz has Jacob deal with circumstances specific to a family going back and forth from home to the hospital in order to care for a special needs baby. Jacob sees Mommy using a breast pump to prepare milk (“Mommy uses a machine. The machine pumps Mommy’s breast and the milk comes out into a little bottle.”) and he learns that his new sibling has to be hooked up to various life-saving machines (“At the hospital, there are machines that help preemies get stronger.”). The illustrations are kid-like drawings that make looking through the book a much more relatable experience.
The Very Tiny Baby will encourage conversations between children and their parents about very sensitive matters. Parents of a preemie will be very thankful to have this resource as they plan how to present information to their older children during a difficult, trying time.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Franklin