born yesterday
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.
Born Yesterday:  The Diary of a Young Journalist

by James Solheim; illus. by Simon James

It’s hard to acquire a new sibling, to move from being the only child or baby of the family to being just part of the scenery for the all-important new little person.  Children’s literature is filled with treatments of that situation, from the humorous (Lloyd-Jones’ How to Be a Baby . . . by Me, the Big Sister, BCCB 4/07) to the reassuring (Ballard’s I Used to Be the Baby). But does anybody stop to think about the trials undergone by the poor baby?

To the rescue comes James Solheim, speaking up for the preverbal—or, to be more precise, providing a platform for a precocious infant who may be preverbal but who’s nonetheless keeping tight records of the whole baby experience. Starting right from birth (“If I’d known I was going to be born in public, I’d at least have put on a tank top”), our narrator, gender and name unknown, is a keen observer of the infant state. The intrepid little reporter records observations in dated entries throughout the first year of his/her life, covering subjects such as baby toys (“I mean, it’s only a green star shape on a string, but it twirls and sparkles and taunts me”), motor skills (“My hands can do more than just write. They can grab things! I made a mental list of things to grab . . . ”), and growth (“With my new high-chair workout, I plan to be big by Friday”). Looming largest of all in the account, however, is the narrator’s magnificent big sister (“She is like some kind of monkey-bar superstar or something! . . . Note to myself: Imitate that girl. . . . Every second of every day, be just like her”).

It’s a giggle-worthy account from start to finish, a splendidly absurd cross between omniscient-pet tale and twisted take on new-baby stories. Our protagonist is particularly funny when provoked to indignation in protests that kids will find hilarious, especially if read aloud with self-righteous verve (“All I get is a pacifier, which is this pretend food on a ring”; “Maybe I’ll take a job as a baby in a different family”). Yet the intense focus on the older sibling is a genuinely welcome complement to stories about people’s focusing on the new kid, and underneath the humor is a bolstering and, honestly, heart-warming truth—when you acquire a little sibling, you become somebody’s hero. (And target, and curse, and scourge, of course, but also hero.)

Illustrator James, who cut his teeth on the Baby Brains books (Baby Brains, BCCB 1/05, etc.), brings the same breezy insouciance to the line-and-watercolor art here. Quick vignettes, drafted in scrawls that recall James Stevenson or Quentin Blake, gain impact from washes of color; the round-headed baby manages to simultaneously look both as clueless as everyone assumes and as knowing as the journal suggests. The illustrations float against white space on oversized pages, the “young journalist” conceit underscored by the blue-lined-paper effect that fills the backgrounds and, niftily, actually provides the line spacing for the text.

A refreshing contrast to the more familiar new-sib picture books, this may subtly encourage youngsters to consider both the poor newcomer’s POV and their own considerable achievements even in a few short years. And even as it bolsters their status, it’ll give them something to laugh about amid the poopy diapers.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor


born yesterday

Cover image from Born Yesterday:  The Diary of a Young Journalist ©2010 by Simon James.  Used by permission of Philomel Books.

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This page was last updated on May 1, 2010.