Where’s Baby? – Anne Hunter, Tundra Books, 2020
Toddlers love books about babies, whom they recognize from their own not-so-distant past. Anne Hunter’s Where’s Baby? recognizes this fact, as well as the its corollary, that animal babies can also represent little humans. In a warm and witty homage to such children’s book classics as P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother?, Hunter reverses the story of an anxious child seeking its mother, to one of a worried parent looking for a playful baby who seems to know that she is driving him crazy!
In the tradition of picture book excellence for this age group, a predictable outcome is questioned on every page, as young readers watch the baby fox elude his determined father.
The quest to find a “missing” baby unfolds in simple text and soft pictures where black, white, and grey depict an unthreatening natural world, where no animals reacts with anything worse than annoyance or mild fear.
The baby herself stands out in every picture as she hides in plain sight, her light red fur not bright enough to be obtrusive, but different enough to allow for easy identification. The father looks everywhere, following a toddler’s logic of possible places: inside other animals’ homes.
While up in a tree or underwater might not seem likely locations for a missing fox, the father never gives up, nor does he succumb to panic. There are plenty of visual and verbal reminders about the persistence of parental love in the words bubbles and pictures. Caregivers reading with children will enjoy the inside of the family’s cave, leftovers from lunch on the floor, and a framed family portrait on the wall.
An homage is not an imitation, and Hunter alludes to P.D. Eastman’s classic in a clever and original way. In one two-page spread, the fox parent calls hopefully, “Ba-by! Are you up in the tree?” only to receive the clear response from an owl, “I am up in the tree, but I am not your baby.”
Contrast this to Are You My Mother, where the baby bird encounters a baffled kitten who says nothing, a sadly baffled dog, and a cow who challenges his very intelligence with the question, “How could I be your mother?…I am a cow.” And don’t forget the terrifying snort! Even though he turns out to be the hero of the story, he terrifies the motherless bird by picking him up with his fire-breathing power.
When parent and child are reunited, as in Are You My Mother? the child has the last word. Both books feature a warm embrace and reassurance of parental love, but the fox in Hunter’s new classic seems joyfully emboldened to continue testing boundaries. Read the books together or separately, but don’t miss this new interpretation of the resilient bond between loving parents and their persistent children.