Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

On Being The Oldest Sibling

Being the oldest child in a family has perks.  In the beginning, as the only child you are everything to your parents.  Every single first is documented.  With the arrival of a younger sibling, everything shifts away from you.  This is a bit of a shock.  The shock grows larger when another realization dawns.

You are assigned more responsibilities.  It's safe to say, some are okay.  Others stink, literally and figuratively.  In The Baby-Changing Station (Megan Tingley BooksLittle, Brown And Company, August 2, 2022) written by Rhett Miller with illustrations by Dan Santat, older brother James initially believes a wish has been granted.  He learns, as most of us do, to be careful about making wishes.

People have names
And my name is James.
I'm a regular ten-year-old kid.
I always thought
I was nice but I'm not.
I feel bad 'bout this thing that I did.

James is lamenting the fact he is no longer in the spotlight.  Joe, his new baby brother, has taken this from him.  Everything Joe does is adorable, even the gross stuff.  If James commits even the tiniest infraction, in his parent's eyes he is not nice.  James begins to plot how to get rid of Joe. Taking him back to a store or sending him in return mail are out of the equation.

When Thursday rolls around, the family goes to The Magical Pan, the best pizzeria in town.  Mom, Dad, and James are stuffed with this delicious treat, when Joe starts to grimace.  Then, the air fills with a tell-tale odor.  

Dad looks at Mom.  Mom looks at Dad.  They both look at James.  James reluctantly takes Joe to the men's room Baby-Changing Station.  Surprisingly efficient, probably motivated by the smell, James has Joe clean and happy in a jiffy.  It is then that James notices a screen over the table.

The screen offers to make Joe disappear with a push of a button.  In his place, there are three options (cool stuff to own).  A huge plus is all memories of Joe will be erased from the family's minds.  As each choice appears, James has visions of future fun.  A countdown from ten to zero begins on this one time offer.  Will he or won't he push that button?  A single word shouted at the end gives us a warm-hearted answer.

By the time you get to the second six line stanza in this narrative, the cadence captures you to the point you might be ready to dance.  James's first person rhyming words by Rhett Miller speak to the truth a first child feels when a younger brother or sister arrives.  Readers will readily find themselves laughing at the dilemma Joe presents to James.  The screen above the baby-changing station seemingly granting James's fervent wish is sheer genius as are James's thoughts when each option is presented.  The rhyming beat, the first person viewpoint, the humor, and the three choices all build toward a conclusion certain to elicit a sigh of satisfaction from readers.  Here is another passage.

Before I could question
This crazy contention
A picture appeared on the screen.
Some weird-looking glasses
With high-tech attachments,
Camouflage, dark brown and green. 


(Page turn completes stanza)

As soon as you see the open dust jacket, with Dan Santat's signature artwork, you know you are in for an interpretive pictorial treat.  In both images, right front and left back, the screen above the changing table holds text.  On the front James and stinky Joe have just entered the men's room.  (Notice the green fumes.)  On the back, Joe sits on the changing table, clean and much less smelly.  He is wide-eyed with his head and eyes raised.  Above him, the sign makes the first verbal announcement.  One look at this and readers will laugh out loud.

On the book case, we zoom in to the changing table, pre-change.  On the right side, Joe down to his diaper seems to be oblivious to the fumes.  On the left, James has laid out all the necessary supplies.  He has wipes, a towel, a clean diaper, pins, and BABY BUTTER.

On the opening and closing endpapers are eight different kinds of diaper folds.  Each one is labeled next to diagrams indicating numbered steps.  Who knew?

These illustrations 

were done in color pencil, watercolor, and Adobe Photoshop.

Each image, single-page or double-page, enhances the text with extra doses of comedy.  The facial expressions are off-the-charts funny.  Usually, we are brought close to the characters and their actions like when Joe is grimacing and loading his diaper as Mom, Dad, and James watch with apprehension.  When James is imagining three different futures with one of the possible selections, readers will wish they could jump into the scene.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page visual.  It is nighttime.  A large dark area with scalloped edging on the corners fills the pages.  There is a sprinkling of stars.  Four boys with flashlights are shining them in the park.  Three are in the background and one is closer to the front on the left.  On most of the right side and with some crossing of the gutter is James and Baby Joe.  Baby Joe is wearing a onesie and carrying a flag.  Both boys are running with mouths wide open and arms spread at their sides.  They are the only two wearing night-vision goggles.  They have captured the flag and a ton of fun.

In this book, The Baby-Changing Station written by Rhett Miller with illustrations by Dan Santat, readers will connect with the family dynamics depicted in exuberant rhyming words and equally rambunctious artwork.  They will knowingly laugh and rejoice at the uplifting ending.  This will be a much requested story time title.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Rhett Miller and Dan Santat and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Rhett Miller has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Dan Santat has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Rhett Miller and Dan Santat were interviewed about this book at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production by Betsy Bird.

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