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Everywhere Babies 2022

I was surprised and also not surprised to learn the book Everywhere Babies has been the focus of conservative outrage in Walton County, Florida. 

I was surprised because I hadn’t realized this book, written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee, was well known. I have an embarrassing tendency to believe my literary favorites are undiscovered by the wider world. Yes, I realize this is like thinking nobody else knows Eeyore is a donkey, or Ramona Quimby named her doll Chevrolet. I was twelve when I came across an essay collection by Robert Benchley (New Yorker contributor in the 1920s and '30s), and I assumed I was the only person at the time who knew how funny he was. I held the same assumption about all my favorite library books -- Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, and C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales. 

As an adult, I came to understand that a good novel has legions of readers, each of whom has a personal relationship with the story. Discussing such a book with a group can be like finding friends in common -- “You know Werner Pfennig (All the Light We Cannot See), too? You know Henry DeTamble (The Time Traveler’s Wife)? Kirsten Raymonde (Station Eleven)? Maria Merryweather (The Little White Horse)?”

I didn’t read Everywhere Babies as a child. (It was published in 2001, long after my childhood.) I became familiar with it because my younger daughter and her husband chose it as the “last book before sleep” throughout each of their sons’ infancy and toddlerhood. Both of my grandsons heard this book before naps and bedtimes for years. I almost memorized it, and I’m sure their parents still could recite it cover to cover, though the boys now are six and nine. It is loving and lulling, reassuring and restful, gently funny, and, to both the baby in a lap and to the lap’s owner, soporific.  

“Every day, everywhere, babies are born..." The illustrations of cuddly, adorable babies, sleeping (or not), eating, playing, walking, and running are stories in themselves –- and therein lies what the outraged consider the problem. The adults caring for the babies are women and men, women and women, and men and men. They could be women and friends, fathers and uncles, and mothers and sisters, or any of a number of people who are crazy about babies. The narrative is focused on the babies themselves and makes no comment on the adults.

Nevertheless, some people who have scoured Walton County school libraries for books they consider inappropriate have condemned titles including Everywhere Babies as “extremely age-inappropriate and pornographic” (The Washington Post, April 22, 2022).  

Everywhere Babies is a book for toddlers. The illustrations show growing babies and loving grownups. If the naysayers genuinely believe this is pornography, I feel a Senator Lloyd Bentsen moment coming on. “People, I’ve seen pornography. I’ve felt nauseated by pornography. Pornography is no friend of mine. People, this is not pornography.” 

The former babies I’ve mentioned sleep in bunkbeds now and are reading chapter books, often after lights out. But Everywhere Babies is imprinted in their hearts and heads and possibly in their very DNA. It has crept into mine as well. And for that, I thank Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee. May their work live on well beyond this moment of fear and madness. 

Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett wrote, copy-edited, and proofread for newspapers for nearly thirty years and currently does occasional freelance writing and editing. She previously worked for a school book fair company, which offered her the chance to catch up on children’s and YA literature, her favorite genres.

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