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February 25, 2013

Eloise Wilkin's The New Baby (or, "The Blog Post That Cost Me $50")

the-new-baby-coverIn November of 1981, my sister was born, when I was 2. The month before, according to to the note my mom made on the inside cover, I received from family friends a copy of The New Baby by Ruth and Harold Shane, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. The New Baby became quite famous in our family as I memorized it entirely, and I’d amaze guests with my precocious “reading” skills. I have quite a vivid recollection of engaging with this book when I was very small, and when I read it now with Harriet, it’s not surprising that I loved it.

It’s something about Eloise Wilkin’s illustrations, I think. One of my other favourite childhood books was We Help Mommy, written by Jean Cushman, whose pictures still intrigue me now as much as they did 30 years ago. They intrigue Harriet too. It’s funny, because the illustrations were dated when I was small, and by now they’re probably about 70 years off, but it doesn’t make them any less engaging. Perhaps even more so? Because time has made these simple domestic tales become full of tiny mysteries (ie why do they clean the floor with a dust mop and not a vacuum?). These stories also show how the most essential parts of childhood never change.

kitchenAnyway, I wanted to write about The New Baby, which my mom saved for many years and passed along to Harriet not long ago. Harriet is now absolutely obsessed with it too as we await the arrival of our own new baby a few months down the road. I like the book too, but the pictures fascinate me for different reasons, the uber-’70s fashions in particular. Check out the kitchen, with the cookbooks and lentils in jars up on the shelf, and whatever they’re eating out of a tagine. The copper pots! Mom’s billowy dress. On other pages, we encounter dad’s indescribably nasty suit (yellow with a blue and red print) and Aunt Pat’s brilliant red plaid pants and pink collegiate sweater at the end of the book. It turns out some things do change, and thank goodness…

1948While I was googling to find images of the illustrations, however, I discovered that there was another version of The New Baby by Eloise Wilkin, and Ruth and Harold Shane. Turns out my book was a revised edition published in 1975, with updated illustrations. The original was published in 1948, and Wilkin’s drawings have a more-than-slightly-terrifying Norman Rockwell thing going on. Aunt Pat in this one is a hideous spinster with a crooked back, and in the kitchen there is not a lentil to be found. I was much intrigued by this, and really wanted to find out more about the original version of this book which was basically my literary foundation. It’s not in the library system but I tracked down a copy on AbeBooks, which should be coming my way in the next few weeks. I’m really looking forward to finding out the differences between the two.

All this googling also directed me to the book Golden Legacy by Leonard Marcus, about the history of the Golden Books. (Apparently, I wrote about this book five years ago, though children’s books meant less to me then, which was probably why I never followed through so far as to actually read it.) As there is not a circulating copy of this book in the Toronto Public Library system, I was left with no choice but to order a copy for myself, which should arrive sometime this week. Very excited to encounter this one. Deirdre Baker’s 2008 review in the Toronto Star heightens my expectations.

Anyway, all this is how the quest to write this blog post ended up costing me 50 bucks. It’s going to lead to more blog posts though, and to new literary discoveries, and so I’m willing to bet that it all will be worth every penny in the end.

8 thoughts on “Eloise Wilkin's The New Baby (or, "The Blog Post That Cost Me $50")”

  1. m says:

    I have the older version! Mine was published in NZ in 1976 and if you think the 70s version is dated, the other one will blow your mind. The mother does not look pregnant ever. I won’t give the rest away, but the drawings are rather freaky.

    1. Kerry says:

      I can’t wait to get my copy!! The drawings look terrifying.

  2. Nathalie says:

    I think that boy appeared as Chucky in Child’s Play.

  3. m says:

    I am very much looking forward to your post on it.

  4. Stephany says:

    Vivi and I just read the one with the doll — Is that one called Baby Dear? I have to confess I really love her illustrations. I think she captures that delicious chubbiness so well.

  5. Alysia says:

    You have just helped to unearth a long, long buried memory. I too was given that book when my sister was born in 1981. Those pictures! I (now) recall being enthralled, particularly by the faces (something about those tiny facial features?)

  6. melanie says:

    We have the older version and the girls insist on reading it all the time! I guess it is a good “a baby is coming to live with us” story for them to relate to but my favourite part is the last page when Moira and I shout out “Hover Baby!” and then laugh – which you will understand when you get the older, creepier version.

  7. Kerry says:

    Book has been received. Harriet thinks the baby is bouncing on the bed. Final image is very, very creepy. Post to come! xo

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