Moon Babies – by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Amy Hevron, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019
Moon Babies is not a STEM book. Not only that, but it negates all the carefully selected astronomy-for-kids books that are designed to teach children about their tiny place in our huge universe. In the realm of fact, it would be part of the same genre as the moon made of green cheese, and the soothing nursery rhyme about the man in the moon reminding children of their approaching bedtime.
Instead, it is a charming fantasy about multiple celestial creatures, infants and some adult caregivers, who either live on the moon or are themselves individual moons, twirling around some unspecified planet, presumably Earth. They have a lot in common with human babies, but they are just different enough to create an offbeat and appealing parallel world for bedtime reading.
Each baby has its own “crescent cradle; several cradles form a “pod.” There may be more than one way to interpret each picture and accompanying poem, but these babies inhabit a system of collective childcare, unless they are all siblings. The float through space, holding a small doll, sipping a bottle, and, from the expressions on their faces, dreaming. During the day, or “moonrise,” they get busy, supervised by “grammies.” One grammie wears glasses; the other does not. This might have been a multigenerational team of caregivers, but they are identified as grammies. The babies have the usual difficulties in learning to walk, but that may be partly due to gravity issues.
The world of the moon babies has a park and a swing set, even a barking dog, although the latter is actually a constellation. Their carousel glides around a central planet, causing one baby to drop its doll and shed tears into the atmosphere. Each identifiably human activity is just different enough to be easily recognized by children listening to the book, but also flagged by them as distinctive. When the moon babies enjoy bowls of “steamy porridge, smooth and white,” drops of food float away, some landing in a smiling Big Dipper. Bath time is fun “in a grand celestial tub,” but one baby frowns from the ordeal of having her hair washed. At bedtime, the stars become sheep ready for counting, after a reading of the cow jumping over the moon.
The refreshing element of this book is its almost countercultural overlap of fantasy and the natural world. In classic children’s books, this fluidity was often the norm. Today concerns with presenting the world of science and technology accurately have made this choice somewhat less common, at least for the youngest readers. (Fantasy and magical realist novels for older readers assume that, by a certain age, they can understand when the laws of nature are subverted for narrative purposes.) You will want to explain to Moon Babies fans that the points of contact between their own world and that of these space-soaring infants are outnumbered by differences. The point of this lovely book is that the comforts of eating, playing, and going to sleep surrounded by protective love are as enchanting as fictional stardust.