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Our house is obviously a bit baby crazy right now. Given our recent penchant towards new baby and big sister books, I was ecstatic to get my hands on a brand new book written and illustrated by the amazing illustrator, Sophie Blackall. I have admired her style for some time now and especially her unique perspective and twist to the work she does. Her newest book is both humorous and adorable. Abounding with cute babies, the story follows a little boy who, upon hearing about his sibling’s impending arrival, is determined to find out where babies come from. It is a classic question – parodied, joked about, and dreaded often – yet Ms. Blackall handles it with gentility, humor, and not even a hint of embarrassment. Be delighted in The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall, May 1, 2014.

In full disclosure, I received this book from the publisher in hopes that I would like it enough to review it. Thankfully, I did! And here’s why: it doesn’t reek of agenda. Yes, there is a time and a place for books with a lesson, but a lot of the time they are way too heavy-handed and often paired with less-than-inspiring illustrations as they are so thick with moral. This book isn’t preachy; it’s funny. Yet it is also sweet and gives respect to both the curiosity and the answer.

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The text is written in first person and has a definite childish tone to it. It is subtle and a bit surprising at first, but I quickly appreciated the effort Ms. Blackall made to replicate the way a young child thinks and speaks.

After breakfast one morning, the news of this boy’s soon-to-be sibling is excitedly shared by his parents. Our protagonist is filled with questions, but has a difficult time figuring out how to ask and even who the correct person is to question. This seems to me a profound reality for children and well executed.

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Hurried off to school, the first person he finally voices his question to is a teen friend named Olive. She casually replies that babies come from a seed that grows into a baby tree. He mulls this over through the morning and by the time art class rolls around, he is convinced it doesn’t seem right.

So he asks his teacher who replies that babies come from the hospital. Clean and simple.

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But not good enough for the inquisitive fellow. He asks two more sources, receiving more conflicting answers, until he is utterly confused. At the end of the day, he finally questions his parents and they give a clear, but age-appropriate response. (The marketing information states an intended audience of 5-8 years old, FYI.)

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I love the handling of this sensitive subject. Both parents are involved in the conversation and they seem completely at ease with the discussion. It would have been nice if they somehow could have addressed his needing to come to them with these types of questions instead of outside sources, but I’m not sure how that could have been handled without veering into the afore-disdained preachiness. I just imagine how terribly his inquiring of other people could have turned out, especially the sweet teen friend of his who thankfully was kind and, intentionally or not, evasive. There is a hint of the (oft-present in children’s literature) obliviousness of the parents as they reveled in their excitement and raced off to their responsibilities, instead of pausing to see if their young son might have follow-up questions about the announcement. But we obviously wouldn’t have had such a charming and delightful story in front of us if it had theoretically gone that direction so perhaps it should just be of note and something parents could bring up on their own during readings.

And speaking of notes to further discussion, this handy book includes a short guide in the back to help answer the perplexing question about where babies come from in more detail depending on the age and inquisitiveness of your child. This adds so much to the tone of this book in my opinion giving Ms. Blackall the freedom and creativity to approach the subject lightly in the text and in more detail in the notes. Well played.

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As I stated, I love Sophie Blackall’s illustrations. Watercolor and ink on uncoated paper gives such a soft, yet vibrant setting to the book. And her babies are just so cute! Be sure to look for the small details she sprinkles throughout the book, like his cat named Brian (best name ever!) and the covers of his bedtime books which children’s lit aficionados should recognize as the latest releases of Sophie Blackall’s studio mates! She’s a clever illustrator with patterns, textures and great surprises for those who stop and admire.

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Now, in a surprising announcement of my own, I’m going to try my hand at a giveaway! The publisher who sent me the book kindly offered to gift one of my readers as well, so those of you who stick around here for my sporadic postings are in for a treat. This is unfortunately only open to US residents (sorry international friends!) but here is the deal: one reader will receive a Penguin Young Readers book bundle which includes The Baby Tree, Maple by Lori Nichols and Corduroy by Don Freeman. And in case I haven’t convinced you of the cuteness this book entails yet, check out this adorable book trailer:

Excited? Here’s how to enter. Leave a comment below by Friday, May 23, and I’ll choose some lucky reader over the weekend and announce by Monday, May 26. That’ll be a fun Memorial Day gift! One comment per person please and if you want to be extra fun, tell me any anecdotes you might have experienced, heard or read about involving this classic conundrum of where babies come from. I’d love to hear them!

Good luck to all and be sure to check out The Baby Tree for yourself!

*This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Marcia whose comment number was randomly chosen! I’ll be in touch for your mailing info. Thanks everyone for joining in the giveaway fun. Hope to see you here more often!*