“But I Wanted A Baby Brother!” Kate Feiffer, illustrations by Diane Goode. Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster, May, 2010. 32 pp. $16.99.
It’s such a simple idea: Little Oliver is sure his mom is going to present him with a baby brother — “I’ve figured it out by looking at my mom,” he says. Besides, he adds, “I’ve wanted a brother all my life.”
Turn the page; it’s a girl. Big mistake. Oliver has a sister.
Authored by anyone other than Oak Bluffs resident Kate Feiffer (“Double Pink,” “My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life,” “President Pennybaker,” “Which Puppy?”), it would be difficult to make this predictable tale very funny or interesting — or original —or affecting. It’s the sort of obvious story that so easily could sag under the weight of sugary descriptions and simplistic examples.
But with this latest children’s picture book, “But I Wanted A Baby Brother!” Ms. Feiffer rises — floats — above all that and with Caldecott award-winning illustrator Diane Goode, lands on perfect.
Her skill at gently unfolding a thoughtful and authentic story deftly, with humor, insight, and originality, in a straightforward manner, seems to have become her signature as a children’s book author — that and her ability to understand how youngsters think, react, and articulate:
“At least his sister’s name was Julie, so he could secretly call her Julian. And she was bald. Not many girls are bald.
“If he thought really hard, he could think of some things she did as well as his baby brother would have done, if he had a baby brother, which he DIDN’T.”
Oliver, along with his dog Chaplin, canvasses the neighborhood, observing, listening, and comparing. He looks through the classifieds, even weighs the option of an on-the-spot trade, but Julie has begun developing one or two redeeming qualities:
“That night Oliver and Chaplin decided that if they got a baby brother, he had to be smarter than Julie. Julie knew how to wave. She never pulled Chaplin’s fur, and she could crawl really fast.”
The illustrations by Ms. Goode contribute to the endearing feel of the story. All the characters seem natural and relaxed — no hocus-pocus. Oliver’s parents are pictured nestling against each other, and all the drawings of tots in strollers and tots playing and building sandcastles subtly exhibit singular personalities. The facial expressions of Oliver, Julie, even Chaplin, hover on adorable.
At one point, when Oliver and his family are at the zoo, he sees a sign over a restroom that reads, “Change Babies Here.” He watches as parents carry their crying babies in, and bring happy babies out; watches as girl babies go in and boy babies come out. Hmmm.
“But I Wanted A Baby Brother!” is a sweet book, fun to read, and wonderful to look through, with its multiple messages covertly made and delivered with a very light hand.