Nine Months

Cover of Nine MonthsJason Chin, author and illustrator of such excellent science books as Grand Canyon (2017), Island (2012), Coral Reefs (2011), and Redwoods (2009) has a talent for combining story and nonfiction content. The narratives, illustrations, and nonfiction elements always work together, so much so that his books make great read-alouds and the information, woven into the stories, is never intrusive. Readers learn a lot while following the written and visual stories. As with all good picture books, the illustrations and texts work together to tell the story. Chin's newest, Nine Months, written by Miranda Paul, is no exception.

Starting with the cover illustration, a story begins. A family is out for a walk on a cool fall day, two dogs joining them. Trees are bursting with yellows and orange-reds. The sky is blue, the grass is green, though mostly covered by fallen leaves. And the woman is several months pregnant. The case cover under the paper jacket is the same. It was a good choice to leave the endpapers unadorned; with so much going on in the book, information on the endpapers would have made this quiet story too busy. The title page takes a several-months step back to begin the story of this pregnancy, month by month over the course of nine months. Here, snow is on the ground, and the people and dogs are dressed for the weather. (Child-friendly touches, such as the dogs’ winter wear, mean so much to young readers.) After a page-turn, arrival home means tracked-in snow, removal of cold-weather garb, and the beginning of a cozy life that includes a baby on the way.

The narrative begins on the following recto page, complemented by the gestation story on the verso page; and that pattern repeats from Month One through Months Eight and Nine. The poetic lines of the verso page most often complete their rhyme on the recto, an ingenious choice as it ties the dual narratives together — just as the visual story of the developing baby intertwines with the story of the family anticipating its arrival. For three months, the developing and dividing cells are not shown actual size, as Chin wants us to actually be able to see them. So: “Small. / Ball. / The point of a pin. / Then it divides… // Our story begins.” From Month Four on, having developed from fertilized egg to zygote to embryo and now to fetus, the fetus is shown actual size, which means that after Months Eight and Nine, the fetus takes over a whole double-page spread. This is followed by another spread showing the parents on their way to the hospital, and the book ends, gratifyingly, with "A baby is here." This dual storytelling makes the book distinguished, according to three of the Caldecott criteria, but especially: “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept” and “Delineation of… characters…or information through the pictures.”

Clearly, throughout the book, the parents are helping their young daughter get ready for her new sibling. They all read a book together (titled Hello Baby, Hola Bebé); the child carries a baby doll and goes along to the mother's ultrasound exam during Month Three; and, at that doctor's visit, she gets to see the sonogram and hear the heartbeat: “Grow. / Hello. / The size of a grape. / More features form… // See them take shape.” It is these details that make this book excellent in its “presentation in recognition of a child audience,” according to Caldecott criteria. There is nothing at all didactic in this presentation, yet much information is imparted.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Nine Months.]

This is a book that will play well with the Sibert committee, too. The information is communicated well in the story, and the back matter adds four pages of interesting content about such things as the embryo’s vestigial tail, hiccups in utero, and why newborns cry.

As we have come to expect of editor Neal Porter, this is excellent bookmaking. Here is a major work for the Caldecott committee to consider carefully, a beautifully and accurately rendered book about a universal experience.

 

 

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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