Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The baby who needed a mommy

Bye Bye Baby:
A Sad Story with a Happy Ending

Janet and Allan Ahlberg

1989, Little Brown and Company

I try not to write about books that are out of print. But I have such a tender spot for this one, I'll make an exception, especially since so many libraries seem to stock it.

First a disclaimer: The story's pretty weird. It follows the journey of a baby -- well, more like a 14-month-old -- who lives alone in a little house, feeding and bathing himself, even changing his own diapers. (The little sketch of that last one is alone worth whatever hassle it may take to locate "Bye Bye Baby").

Eventually, the baby sets out into the big wide world in search of a mommy, making inquiries of a friendly cat, a teddy bear, a wind-up hen and an old uncle. As the subtitle suggests, his search meets a satisfying conclusion.

To me, the book's strangeness is what makes it so great -- it's charming, but not saccharine. It couples comforting repetition with unexpected moments. And best of all, it allows little ones to imagine the world as a good place, full of people who may want to help them be warm, comfortable and happy.

Then, one night, when the baby was putting
himself to bed he thought, "I am too young
to be doing this. I need a mommy!"

So, early the next morning, the baby left his little
house -- Bye-bye baby! -- and set off down the road
to find a mommy. The baby could not walk
far without resting. He could not walk fast
falling over.

But he kept going just the same...