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Friday, September 16, 2011

Pecan Pie Baby, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. G P Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2010. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"Even my aunties were baby crazy. When they came over for our weekly Sweet Tea and Toast Party, they both drank their tea in one huge gulp and ate their toast in two bites without either of them saying to me, "Why, isn't the weather marvelous, dear Lady.""

Having a new baby in the house is not going to be all peaches and cream for Gia. She knows that things are going to change; but, she likes them just the way they are right now. Come the first snowfall, her life will be very different.

It's enough to make Gia wish that the snow away this year when her Mom tells her that the new baby's arrival should be at about that time. Haven't she and her Mom been doing just fine on their own? Gia likes life as they are living it.

It is apparent everywhere she goes that the baby is getting a lot of attention. Her friends at school want to talk about it and her teacher is reading books about it. Her aunties no longer have time for the genteel, ladylike tea party that they have been enjoying every week with Gia. Now, they want to rush through it so that they can talk about the 'ding-dang' baby. Gia is very frustrated by it all.

When she even has to share her love of pecan pie with the yet-to-arrive baby, she is sad. Seems pecan pie is it's favorite dessert, too...unlike brussel sprouts. Mama reassures Gia at every step along the way. She lets Grandma that the two of them don't need anything when it comes to help with the baby. Gia remains worried:

"Some days I sat on my stoop thinking about all the years it had been just me and Mama.
About us drinking hot chocolate and telling silly stories.
About the mornings I jumped into her bed when it was still blue-pink outside, snuggling up to her while she tried to keep on sleeping."

Oh, it's going to be different!

After an explosion of anger at the Thanksgiving dinner table and being sent to her home to think, Gia has a visit with her Mama. She is surprised that Mama is going to miss some of the same things that Gia will miss.

"Those were the good old days," I said. Mama smiled. "Guess you're going to have to tell the baby all about it."

It is a fitting end to a lovely, and real, story of the feelings that older siblings harbor when a new addition is imminent. They are astute enough to know that change is coming and to be suspicious of how they will be affected by it. I like the way Jacqueline Woodson allows Gia to voice her insecurities, and I like that the story ends without real resolution. It has snowed yet, and the baby has not arrived. There will be some work to do.

So, you have a new wonderful book about siblings; now you add Sophie Blackall's illustrative genius to the mix. She creates Gia's world with care and concern for the little girl, filling faces with affection and deft expression at every turn. It is easy to see the sadness in Gia's eyes as the leaves fall all around her and the time for the first snowfall nears. You can also see the mischievous joy as she and her Mama share a piece of pecan pie. As the uncles build the new crib, using almost all of the space in Gia's bedroom, you can feel her pain and her sense of being small in a bigger world that seems focused on the new baby. There is such detail. Sophie Blackall adds so much dimension to Jacqueline Woodson's words. It is a lovely example of a perfect match between author and illustrator.

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