Happy Birthday

*  Parent’s Choice Award 1996

*  Parent’s Magazine – “Reading Magic Award”

*  School Library Journal – “Best Books” of 1996

*  CCBC Choice Award 1996

*  Booklist “Editor’s Choice” Award

“Michael Emberley’s illustrations immediately brought me back to that day.(the birth of my son) I turned the pages and I began to feel hot wet tears spill down my cheeks. Tears of both joy and loss…..I remembered those tiny fingers, the large dark sage eyes, and the exhaustion. I fell in love again.”—The Boston Parent’s Paper

“Tenderness flows like a current throughout the warmhearted prose and the gentle, sweeping lines of Emberley’s realistic artwork.—Publisher’s Weekly

“Children will love the two page close-up pastel drawings by Michael Emberley.”— The New York Times Book Review

“…a seamless blending of text and artwork…Emberley’s paintings are spectacular. Large realistic, and softly colored, they literally glow as they catch the tender moments of a baby girl’s first day in the world. (A) touching book that speaks with joy and wonder to young children and their parents.” —Booklist, starred review

This was a departure from previous books I had done with Robie Harris. My idea, as with my earlier Welcome Back Sun, was to convey feelings as much as plot with the art. So I used lots of soft pastels and large close-ups, and a more realistic style.  In some the baby is bigger than life size. People always have their face right up to the baby in those early days. This intimate, nose-to-nose view makes the baby look very big, not small.

For research on this book Robie spoke with several hospitals in Boston to try and arrange an audience to a birth. We were told if it worked out we might not get very much notice. After weeks of waiting for just the right circumstances to align, we got “the call” in the middle of the night – a woman giving birth at Boston City hospital had agreed we could observe, and she was now in labor!

I got the word fromRobie and pedaled across town to her house, where a taxi was waiting. “Boston City!” we shouted to the startled driver, HURRY! We need to get to the maternity ward  – we are going to… A baby… a birth…HURRY!” We are not sure what the driver thought we were up to but he got us there quick in the quiet early morning streets. The hospital was deserted it seemed and we scurried down hallways yelping at anyone we saw –   “Maternity, where’s Maternity!?”. Someone eventually pointed to a door, we opened it, and whoa! Hold up! I was more than a little surprised to find the room tiny and with many people in it.

There was the mother, the doctor, a nurse and an anesthesiologist, if I remember correctly. With the two of us in the room as well, there was hardly room to turn around. And there was the baby’s head two feet in front of us. I froze, intent not to disturb the scene, feeling like we’d intruded on a sacred moment. But the doctor just said, “Please, it’s OK, come closer. That’s why you’re here.”

The woman was Haitian and told us later through a translator she was used to having lots of relatives attending a birth. She had no problem having us there. She even smiled at us through her exhaustion in the relative calm  between contractions. Even in her situation, her kindness, and I felt, her maternal instincts, finding a moment to reassure us. It was a long, difficult delivery, and the lasting impression I have of the event is seeing the baby kind of stuck, halfway out, between contractions, with his hands propping himself up, eyes wide open, looking around with what appeared to be incredible poise considering his circumstance.

I have no children of my own. But I also went to two other births of friends of mine for this book, though never made it on time for the actual event. One time I was stuck in traffic, and the second time the baby was just too quick! I took lots of photos though.  And to complete the book, I photographed the other relatives as well, making it a true family album.

It is amazing to me that our moment of coming into the world is so removed from many people’s lives. To never have witnessed a human birth, is to not fully understand who we are I think. We all believe we know what it is to become a human being, and many witness the birth of their own children. (Though you couldn’t really call a woman an impartial observer of her own children’s birth!) My overwhelming impression was of normalcy. It seemed that I knew this event – perhaps an ancient memory. Not anything to stay away from. Nothing clinical. Just a feeling of,  “Yes, this is how it is. This how we come to be here. I know this moment. I have always known this.”

That’s what it felt like.