I’m missing a dear friend who died very suddenly this past spring. Liz was old enough to be my mother and my kids’ grandmother. She loved to give gifts and had an almost magical way of doing so. Her taste in books for kids was exquisite and she always found the most perfect, most unique books for us—books I’d somehow never seen before. It is a comfort to see them on the shelves now.
I took down one of my favorites this morning. She gave it to us almost exactly twelve years ago—just before the daughter who has just celebrated her twelfth birthday was born. Said expected baby had a five-and-a-half year old brother anxiously awaiting her coming. We worked hard at giving him the chance to help prepare for the baby and it was in the last days of this preparation that my friend appeared with the book Just Like a Baby by Rebecca Bond.
The first two-page spread shows three generations of a family dancing their joy at having found out a baby was coming. They decide to make a cradle for the baby. (My husband was putting the finishing touches on a hand-made cherrywood cradle for our baby at the time. See what I mean? Perfect gift.) Father builds the cradle and Grandfather paints it. Grandmother makes a quilt for it and big brother makes a mobile to hang above it. After each person adds their particular gift, they feel inexplicably compelled to climb into the cradle themselves and rock gently back and forth, resting in the cradle, sleeping just like a baby.
The art in this book is whimsical and beautiful—the floors are patterned in tiles and wood and rugs, the family’s bookshelves are crowded, their piano is a mess of sheet music. In short, it’s a home you’d like to live in—with people you’d like to live with!—full of grace and ease and charm.
Mama’s belly grows with each page turn. Finally, with the addition of the most perfect mobile made by the big brother, they move the cradle underneath the window and Mama rocks it gently back and forth, running her fingers over the smoothly sanded wood, enjoying the fish and animals and birds painted on it. She turns down the quilt, watches the mobile turn in the moonlight…and she feels the baby move inside her.
When the baby comes, we are told the family loved everything about her—her round cheeks and velvet skin, her milky smell, the sounds she makes, her warm rosiness, and the niceness of how she fit into their arms.
When she starts to cry, her family “watched in wonder.” And then they tuck her into her cradle. She settles down immediately in the cradle that father built and grandfather painted, under the quilt grandmother sewed and the mobile her brother created. “She saw her family circled around her…and she slept just like a baby.”
Just Like a Baby is the epitome of a quiet book. We read it countless times twelve summers ago. I can’t wait to read it to my grandkids—many, many years in the future, of course—and tell them about my friend Liz and her beautiful way with gifts.