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What Makes a Baby by C. Silverberg

Silverberg, Cory.  What Makes a Baby.  Illus. Fiona Smyth.  New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012. Print

In What Makes a Baby, sex educator and author Cory Silverberg tells the story that makes most adults squirm: the story about human reproduction, gestation, and birth. However, this isn’t your typical mythical tale of a growing “flower” or a story about the nuclear family with “mommy and daddy.” Instead, we have some of the real players: egg and sperm cells, uteruses, and human beings.

These real baby-making players are playfully illustrated by Fiona Smyth, a Montreal born artist and graphic novelist. In typical Smyth style, What Makes a Baby’s pages are bright and colourful, featuring a lot of purple, hot pink, and blue. Human beings are also full of colour (pink, orange, green, yellow and purple), and in most of the story they are depicted gender neutral –like smiley, vaguely human creatures. This aligns with the book’s premise to be “a book for every kind of family,” as it admirably avoids the temptation to link baby making with traditional notions of femininity and masculinity; the colourful depictions also keep this reproductive story lively and somewhat whimsical.

Silverberg’s story further follows a simple, straightforward narrative. He states that some bodies have eggs, some bodies have sperm, and some bodies do not; that some babies are born with the help of midwives and some with doctors; that some babies come out of a vagina and some babies come out by the belly button. The description of eggs and sperm is particularly nuanced, explaining that each cell is made up of stories from the body out of which it came; these “stories” are then shared to become something new. These descriptions promote the book’s mission to represent all kinds of families and people, but they also turn a complicated story into an intelligible one for a young child.

However, What Makes a Baby has some pitfalls. Firstly, there is no mention of sexual intercourse. The egg and sperm “swirl together in a special kind of dance,” but there is no other discussion of that first step in how babies are made—the part that is typically the most awkward to explain. Further, the abstract representation of people might be confusing for children, especially as people are drawn differently in the latter half of the book, allowing for a less concrete understanding of what really makes a baby.

Thus, this story makes some great strides towards more inclusive and honest discussions of baby-making, but it doesn’t supply the whole picture. This book is ideal for a preschool or elementary school library and would work in concert with other stories on reproduction.

Recommended: 3 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Jessica Thorlakson

Jessica Thorlakson is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Alberta’s H. T. Coutts Education and Physical Education Library. She has a background in English Literature and enjoys little more than reading a good book and drinking some tea.