Baby Talk, by Fred Hiatt, illustrated by Mark Graham

Baby Talk

Baby Talk, by Fred Hiatt, illustrated by Mark Graham
(1999, McElderry Books, ISBN 0-689-82146-8)

This was another random grab from the shelf by GirlChild. She’s not a particularly discerning reader, but this one was cute!

Joey’s new baby brother cries a lot, and all the members of his family tell him that the baby is just trying to tell them something–whether it’s that he’s hungry or tired or needing to be changed–and offer to let Joey help take care of him. Joey declines the offers until one day when his brother makes a different sound– “Agoo!” –and Joey’s grandmother says he’s speaking baby talk and that Joey spoke it not so long ago. Joey tries to understand, and his mother suggests that he start talking back. Soon Joey and his baby brother are having nonsense conversations all the time, and by the end, Joey is confident he knows what his brother is saying to him… “I love you.”

Although our experience is somewhat different (GirlChild has always been interested in helping with BoyChild), the storyline does ring true. The baby in the book appears to be about six months to nine months old, and Joey seems to be in the three to five year old range (except he doesn’t use a booster in the car, but that’s a pretty typical illustration mistake), and I can see a boy that age being wary of interacting with a newish baby. One thing GirlChild and Joey have in common, though, is the desire to understand what the baby is saying. GirlChild used to ask, “What’s he saying?” (possibly because we usually provide commentary on what both small children and animals are “saying”), but now she asks the question and immediately provides her own answer or just puts on her BoyChild voice (a rather insultingly squeaky one, actually) and speaks for him. (That boy says some seriously sassy things sometimes!)

The oil paint illustrations are soft and textured, and the rectangular scenes have rough edges that bleed into the background of the page (also oil-painted). I find the images of the children much better executed than those of the adults. The expressions on Joey and the baby are particularly life-like; I’ve seen those looks on my children’s faces many times. (The dad is dressed in a yellow polo shirt and yellow slacks and has white-blond hair…he seems a little bit dated. And his cheeks are abnormally rosy.) All in all, though, they’re sweet illustrations and go well with the topic of the book.

GirlChild’s Reaction: GirlChild liked this book because this is pretty much how she and BoyChild interact. Then again, BoyChild is almost 16 months old and is still mostly speaking in nonsense syllables, and I’m still waiting for her to be able to interpret… This book encouraged me to think a little harder about what BoyChild might be trying to say (I found myself trying to figure out if the author was using real sounds that a baby made for certain words, but I couldn’t match them up) and to pay more attention to how he responds when I repeat his sounds back to him.

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