Marshmallow found a copy of a Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations, in her classroom library and decided to check it out. Just like many other novels by Dickens, Great Expectations was first published as a serial, weekly from 1860 to 1861, and then came out as a single three-volume book in 1861. Below Marshmallow shares her thoughts on this classic.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books that are set in past time periods or if you enjoy coming-of-age stories, and if you are up for a really long read, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Philip Pirrip (nicknamed Pip) is an orphan in the mid-early 19th century in Kent, England. His parents are dead but his much older sister (Georgiana Maria, though she is always referred to as Mrs. Joe) takes care of him. Unfortunately, she disciplines him very harshly, which was the norm back then. She is married to a blacksmith, Joe Gargery, who is kind and whom Pip views as a father figure. The story starts when Pip is around seven and he is visiting the graves of his parents and other siblings. There he unexpectedly meets an escaped convict who threatens to kill him unless he brings food and tools. Pip does so, but then soldiers arrive and ask Joe to mend some shackles. Pip comes with the soldiers and they find the convict fighting with another convict. The first one says that he stole the things that he ordered Pip to steal.
After this bizarre event, the narration moves on and we skip ahead a few years. In a couple years, a rich elderly woman is looking for a young boy to come visit her. Pip is chosen and so he starts going to her house every now and then. This woman is Miss Havisham who has an adopted daughter named Estella. Miss Havisham is a strange woman: she was supposed to be married, but when her fiancé left her at the altar, she froze everything where it was. She was still wearing her wedding dress and the clocks were all stopped to the time she learned she was abandoned. Miss Havisham raised Estella to be her revenge on the male part of the human species. Estella was raised to be heartless and break mens’ hearts. And Pip was to be her first victim. Pip falls in love with Estelle, leading to a great heartbreak throughout Pip’s life.
Many years later, when Pip has been training to be a blacksmith, like Joe, he is given money to allow him to become a gentleman and he travels to London. It is presumed that Miss Havisham was the one who gave him the money. Pip’s life transforms many times into different things. This book follows his life through most of it from a young age to his older years.
Marshmallow’s Review: Great Expectations is a highly regarded book by the famous author Charles Dickens. I found it fascinating. I thought it was remarkable how it covered almost the entire life of one person. I also appreciated that there were so many twists and turns. I honestly did not expect what happened at the end.
However, I would say that it is very difficult to read since it was written in a different time period where people wrote differently. Secondly, it is very complicated because there are so many characters and so many things happen to them at different times. I understood most of the book when I read it, but I missed some things because of the confusing language. I had to go back and reread and think things through a bit.
All in all I am glad to have read Great Expectations. It was my first Dickens book, and it is amazing to me that he wrote it and published it weekly first. It is such a big project! And there are so many things to keep track of because it is Pip’s entire life!
The book bunnies’ household is very rarely without music, but the bunnies have not really reviewed too many books that engage with it. The one main exception is Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem written by poet Amanda Gorman and illustrated by Loren Long, which was reviewed by Caramel about a year ago, and involved music at its heart. Today Caramel reviews another picture book, Somebody to Love, written in 2022 by the singer Valerie June and illustrated by Marcela Avelar, which has music all throughout.
The book bunnies received this book as a review copy.
Sprinkles: Caramel, here we are. Yet again, talking about a new book. What do you want to tell us about this one?
Caramel: This is a book about a banjolele.
S: What’s that?
C: It’s like a ukulele mixed with a banjo. It is a small musical instrument with four strings. And there is a girl in the book named Valerie June who is given one of these instruments.
S: So this is the author, right?
C: I think so. She is a singer and she wrote this book about a song she sings with her banjolele called “Somebody to Love”. Can we put a video of her singing her song here?
S: Sure Caramel. Here it is:
S: Do you like the song Caramel?
C: Yes she has a beautiful voice.
S: How about the banjolele?
C: Yes. It has a very distinctive voice.
S: I know you are a lot more musical than me Caramel. But even I could appreciate her voice. And the single instrument makes the piece focus a lot more on her voice I think. But do you think she wrote the book to just have more people learn about her and her song?
C: Maybe. Who knows? But I think she wrote it because she wanted to tell people the story of her banjolele.
S: How so?
C: In the book Valerie takes the banjolele to a park to play music with other people. But the banjolele is too weak and cannot sing a whole song. But technically she should be able to strum and make the sounds she wants so it cannot be the banjolele who is not able to sing so I am not sure I understand.
S: Well, I think it is a bit more symbolic than that.
C: I guess that makes a lot more sense. But what could she mean by the banjolele not being able to sing long enough? Only humans and birds can sing.
S: Well, tell us what happens when the banjolele cannot sing. Maybe that will help us figure it out.
C: She gets embarrassed and puts it away for a very very long time.
S: But then …
C: She finds it again and somehow it plays then and a whole song too. And finally Valerie and the banjolele can sing together.
S: And that is the “Somebody to Love” song, right?
S: So the banjolele had a dream, a song to sing, but at the beginning it could not live up to its dreams. And nobody stood up for it, everyone made fun of it. Right?
C: Yes, but in the end, Valerie gave it another chance and they could sing together.
S: So what happened to the dream of the banjolele?
C: It became a reality. The banjolele became famous. And now people listen to it and Valerie sing together.
S: So what do you think the book is really about?
C: Dreams! You can have dreams and people do not always support you, but you can still hold on to them!
S: Yes, I think so!
C: Hmm, and it makes a lot more sense now, because at the end, there is a whole page listing proverbs about dreams from many different places. My favorite is the Mexican one, which is Soñar no cuesta nada. It means dreams don’t cost a thing.
S: I like that!
C: Yes. So dreaming does not cost you anything, so you can have as many dreams as you want, and some of them will come true as long as you believe in them.
S: I like that too!
C: At the end of the book there is a part where the author talks to the reader about Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I have a dream” speech.
S: What do you know about that speech?
C: I know it moves a lot of people and people should have listened to him more. But he does talk about dreaming for a better America.
S: And Valerie June says that as a black woman artist she learned the power of dreams from him. So she wrote this book to tell young bunnies all about having dreams and believing in them.
C: I think I understand the book much better now.
S: I think we both do. So how would you describe the book in three words?
C: Colorful, musical, and dreamy.
S: I like those words Caramel! So I think this is a good time to wrap up this review. What do you want to tell our readers?
Today Sprinkles reviews a collection of children’s books that parents can share with little ones to help answer the curious question “Where do babies come from?”
Sprinkles has reviewed several books for the book bunnies blog before. Last October, she reviewed a handful of children’s books on gender identity. Today she once again discusses a selection of books on a topic that is both important and useful but may sometimes be challenging to talk about with little bunnies: Where do babies come from?
As a parent of young and growing children, I have occasionally needed to field curious questions such as “why is the sky blue?” or “why are there only seven colors in the rainbow?” or “why does ice cream taste so much better than cabbage?”. Sometimes these questions lead me to interesting discoveries, as the world is enormous and little ones have no limits to their curiosities but I certainly have a finite amount of knowledge. So often we look things up together online, or check out books, and learn something new together. And these turn out to be quite pleasant learning experiences for all. In fact many grownups I know love to rediscover the world through the questions of the children in their lives.
However there is one question that often challenges grownups: “Where do babies come from?” Some eventually figure out how to give an at least somewhat satisfying answer to this question, or children seem to lose interest eventually, seeing how their grownups are fumbling with words, and move on. But readers of the book bunny blog might want to know if there are smoother ways to talk about this question and the related ones about human sexuality. That is why I decided to read and write about a handful of books that explore these issues and claim to be age-appropriate.
I begin with the first book on this topic that I myself have read (because, yes, I was a curious young bunny once, too): Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations. Written by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins, designed by Paul Walter, and published first in 1973, this book might perhaps be the first in this genre. Quite progressive for its time, I think the book holds up relatively well.
Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations begins with the natural question almost all curious young bunnies ask their parents at some point. The answer is almost all accurate and illustrated with hilarious and quite anatomically detailed drawings. The explanation starts with a woman and a man wanting to be close to one another and then goes into some of the details of sexual intercourse (called “making love” here). These stages are illustrated with a cute and round mom-to-be and a cute and round dad-to-be. You do not see things in very graphic format, but you do get a full understanding of the mechanics of the process. Then there is a detailed and illustrated description of the uterus and the various stages of pregnancy, and the book ends with a message of love to the child addressed as “you” throughout the whole thing:
You might think it sounds like a lot of hard work for such a little person. But there’s a very good reason why your mother and father went through it all. And if you want to know what that reason is, just take a look in the mirror.
This is where I find that the book is somewhat not completely ready for our times. It assumes that the child asking the titular question is living with a mom and a dad, and that these folks are the child’s biological parents. There is no acknowledgment of other alternatives, such as adopted children or children being raised by people other than their biological parents. Other than this particular shortcoming, the one minor mistake I can find in the book is about baby math. That is, we are told that “one sperm plus one egg makes one baby; two sperm plus two eggs makes two babies, and so on.” This is of course not always true; twins and triplets can come from a single fertilized egg.
But perhaps adults might not want to complicate things, and perhaps theirs is a nuclear family structure made up of a mom and a dad who are the biological parents of the curious child. In that case, I think that Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations is still quite capable of doing its job effectively, and all along the way, entertaining everyone involved. Depending on the parents’ level of comfort, the book might be appropriate for bunnies as young as 6 years of age. Readers should know that there are a lot of naked baby illustrations along the way and a few adult naked bodies, too; the inside covers are also full of over a hundred smiling sperm. Visually, the tendency is all on the cute and humorous, and there is absolutely nothing erotic or sexualized, but most characters depicted have no clothes on.
A book, or rather a pair of books, on the same topic where everybody except the unborn is fully clothed is Where Do Babies Come From: A Guide for the Christian Family. This is in fact two separate books, one written for boys aged 6-8 and the other written for girls in the same age range. Folks do not need to be Christian to have some concerns about having images without clothing in a book they are sharing with their young ones. So I thought it might be a good idea to see what this book pair had to offer.
This pair of books does not have a visible author; published by a Christian publisher the author voice is captured by an invisible “we” addressing the parent at the beginning and giving them some ideas about how to share this book with their little ones. Most of the rest of the book is written in the form of a story about a boy named Simon or a girl named Alisa, turning seven and wanting to learn about where babies come from. The Christian nature of the book is very tangible, with Christ being mentioned in the address to the parents; however, the rest of the book mainly focuses on a single God, who creates and loves, so it is possible other religious folks might be able to find it palatable for their context as well.
The books develop content in parallel for most of the time, and they make an effort to mention alternatives to the child living with biological mom and dad setup. There is mention of an adopted neighbor and possibly grandparents living with the child. But the focus seems to be the nuclear, mom and dad setup. The actual making of the baby event is described by mom and dad loving one another and “bringing their bodies together very close and in a special way.” There is not any more anatomical or mechanical details, though words like egg, sperm, uterus, and vagina do come up.
Then comes the part where children are told boys and girls are different and a boy cannot be the mother when playing house (though, thankfully, we are told men can be cooks and women can be firefighters or doctors). Then there is the part about how “sin has ruined God’s perfect plan” so some moms and dads don’t stay together. Furthermore the binary and biological essence of sex is emphasized throughout (boys are like this, girls are like that). These might make it harder for some grownups to choose these books for their little ones.
All in all, I found this pair of books to be an interesting attempt, and I thought that they provided lots of messages which might align with the values of some families. However, I believe they do not provide a concrete answer to the actual question. It was also not clear to me why the authors felt a need to make the two books separate; the only difference I could discern was the main character of the story was a boy for the book meant for boys and a girl for the book meant for girls.
Another book with a similar title is Where Do Babies Come From?, written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Christine Pym, and designed by Suzie Harrison. Designed as a lift-the-flap book, this book also does not give away too much about the mechanics of how babies are made. We are told only that the father’s sperm and mother’s egg met and became one. It is not clear how or where the meeting happened, but somehow this egg and sperm pair made it into the mother’s body.
The main distinction of this book, in my opinion, other than the flaps that would most effectively engage young bunnies who would likely love to discover what is hidden under each, is that it puts the human process in the context of the larger animal kingdom. The pages of the book are colorful and full of all sorts of animals courting one another, mating, and taking care of their eggs and their young. Each of the animal groupings point to a flap which, when opened, explains a particular animal behavior which leads to the making of offspring (like a bird dancing to attract a mate). And in the middle of each two-page spread is a human mother or a pregnant woman, and a curious child asking her questions.
Where Do Babies Come From? in this way puts human reproduction in the context of natural animal behavior. This might appeal to grownups who know that their little ones like and enjoy books and documentaries about animals. The flappy design of the book makes it accessible to a younger readership; bunnies as young as four years of age might be able to enjoy and learn from the book. And perhaps the lack of information about some of the details of the baby-making process is perfectly fine for this particular audience.
Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth is yet another book with a similar title, aiming for the younger crowd. Written by the child psychologist Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Cindy Revell, this book is part of a new series called “Just Enough: Difficult Topics Made Easy.” As expected, the book does not give too many details, just enough to satisfy a curious five-year-old bunny perhaps. Where do babies come from? The mother’s body has a place named a womb, right under the stomach; that’s where. To make the baby an egg and a sperm need to meet. And how do they meet? “When it’s time to make a baby,” a mommy’s body which has an egg and a daddy’s body which has a sperm fit to one another and get the two pieces of the puzzle together. So again, there is a lot of handwaving and indirection, but the goal is to just say enough so the child is satisfied and not misled, but also does not get confused by the details.
Just like most of the books reviewed earlier in this post, Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth aligns itself more with the attitude that younger bunnies do not need too many details, but they can get to know about the sperm and the egg, and this allows them to think about how two humans came together to make one baby (no matter how vaguely that coming together is described).
For grownups who want their younger ones to have more of the details and who are not worried they will be confused, scared, or inordinately curious (some grownups do prefer less curious bunnies!), I can recommend It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends. Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, this book is perhaps the best option for the 4-7 age group. The presenters are a bird and a bee, one curious and wanting to know more and the other a little embarrassed and kind of tentative about things. They start with the stork and other stories children may have heard about where babies come from, and then go into the facts. The illustrations are cute, fully colored, and very helpful.
Unlike any of the earlier books reviewed above, It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends actually uses the phrase “having sex” and describes in detail the reproductive systems of the biologically male and biologically female human bodies. It also accounts for a range of families including adoptive ones. The binary nature of biological sex is still omnipresent in the book however. The differences and similarities between the body of a boy and a girl are explored in great detail.
One thing I really like about this book was the section on “Okay Touches, Not Okay Touches”. One of the reasons why young bunnies should learn something about their bodies and where babies come from is so that they are aware of the notion of the privacy of certain parts of their bodies. This book takes this concern to the next level and explicitly differentiates between good and natural and healthy ways people can touch them and the not-so-good, and unwanted ways. Reading this book together (maybe a couple sections at a time, as each two-page spread makes a rich section on its own), a grownup bunny and a young one can have some very important conversations.
It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, the same team who produced It’s NOT The Stork, is also a neat book, in the same spirit, providing a lot of useful information in digestible chunks, this time for the 7-and-above age group. In fact It’s SO Amazing! was written first, in 1999, and then came It’s NOT The Stork for the younger crowd, in 2006. Both books are great options, in my opinion, if you want to answer your young bunnies’ questions fully.
If your young one has already read It’s NOT The Stork, they may already recognize the bird and the bee in It’s SO Amazing, who are once again the main narrators of the story. This book also talks about how babies are made, but also, as its intended readership is approaching puberty, there is some mention of the typical changes that a child’s body goes through during this time. The “Okay Touches, Not-Okay Touches” distinction shows up once again.
I was surprised to see that there is a whole section on HIV and AIDS in It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families. First I wondered why the section was not more broadly on sexually transmitted diseases. My explanation for myself is that the point was probably not to explain HIV / AIDS as one of many sexually transmitted diseases, but rather to make sure that young readers know and understand the context of HIV / AIDS. Sexually transmitted diseases are not typically discussed in mainstream conversations involving young people, and many may not have heard of them. And perhaps it is okay for a seven-year-old to not learn more details just yet. However, HIV / AIDS is a topic that many will hear about before they turn ten, and some will know people who are living with HIV / AIDS. There are a lot of myths about how the HIV virus is transmitted and the two pages dedicated to it aim to dispel some of these.
The team who created It’s NOT The Stork and It’s SO Amazing! also wrote a book for older children, age 10 and up. I plan on reviewing that book together with a few other books about puberty. Stay tuned for that, coming up in a few more weeks.
Finally, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about a slightly more recent book, What Makes A Baby, written in 2012 by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth. Formatted as a picture book, this book, too, seems directed towards the younger crowd. As the most recent book among those I am writing about here, this book is perhaps the most flexible in terms of audience and inclusivity. The subtitle of the book says it explicitly; this is “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.”
The book mentions people who have sperms and people who have eggs and people who have uteruses. The words boy, girl, woman, man, mother, father do not appear anywhere. But there is repeated mention of those who wanted you, those who cared for you, those who loved you. There is also a lyrical description of the conception process, involving the stories of the egg joining the stories of the sperm, and being ready to tell a new story together. In other words, a baby is made by love, bringing together stories of multiple people and generations, and is to be loved by the people around them. Anatomy is mentioned to an extent; we hear of the baby coming out of the vagina, we learn how to say the word uterus, but the mechanics of the baby-making process is not included.
I think What Makes A Baby is a neat book which offers grownups the opportunity to share a more inclusive and metaphorical explanation of how babies are made with the young bunnies they love. This will be especially helpful for young ones who themselves do not feel like their identities are captured by words like boy or girl, and those whose families may not fit the traditional biological parents living with their offspring template. However, many young bunnies are ready to love and be loved, and so sharing this version of the story of the beginning of their life when they are not yet ready for the full technical story might be a good idea.
More generally, I think that What Makes A Baby is a good first read for all young bunnies and their grownups. For the ones interested in nature and animals, the flapbook Where Do Babies Come From? might also be very appropriate. For young ones who have a pregnant person close to them and are curious about the process, Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth might also offer a feasible option. If and when the young ones ask for more information, you can move on to some of the more detailed texts, such as Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations, or either of the birds-and-bees books (It’s NOT The Stork and It’s SO Amazing!) All in all, I think there are a lot of interesting options out there!
Sprinkles: Okay Caramel, you got this chapter book a while ago, and finally you decided to talk about it for the blog. Perhaps we just needed to finish all the dragon books in the house first.
Caramel: Yup. And don’t forget pangolin books!
S: I guess those dragons and pangolins are always going to be your favorites. But it seems that penguins come quite close.
C: Yes, penguins might be possibly my third favorite creatures. But if you include robots, then maybe penguins might be fourth on my list. Still I like them a lot.
S: I know. You already reviewed several books for the blog about them. But let us focus on this one now. What is Spy Penguins: Golden Egg about?
C: It is about two penguins named Jackson and Quigley, who want to be spies. They are young though; at least Jackson is still living with his parents. Still, they want to join the FBI and solve crimes.
C: No, no, no! It is the Frosty Bureau of Investigation!
S: Hmm, this kind of reminds me of the book N.E.R.D.S. that you reviewed a while back. There, too, you had a bunch of characters who were solving crimes.
C: Yes, Jackson and Quigley also have gadgets and gizmos, like the kids from N.E.R.D.S. But they are penguins and actually they are too young for the FBI. Still they try to solve crimes. Even when they are told not to. Which is kind of like Harry Potter, who never listens to the grownups in his life.
S: I know, right? It seems that a lot of book characters don’t listen to the grownups in their lives and get mixed up in all sorts of things. But sometimes they turn out to be fun and exciting. So tell me what kinds of crimes are Jackson and Quigley working to solve?
C: In this book, there is a criminal named Icejob, who has escaped from prison. And the two spy penguins try to find him.
S: And what is the golden egg in the title?
C: There is a game called the Golden Egg Games, which is kind of like the Olympics. It happens every ten years. And the winner, the caretaker and the egg, get rewarded.
S: Wait, so you are supposed to run or do some athletic stuff with an egg??
C: Pretty much. And Jackson is taking care of his sibling egg because his mom is sick. And so the two of them, Jackson and the egg, play in the Golden Egg Games, and —
S: Hey! No big spoilers! How is the Golden Egg game related to the criminal Icejob?
C: Well, Icejob steals the Golden Egg and the egg which is supposed to become Jackson’s sibling.
S: So is the Golden Egg like a trophy you get when you win the Golden Egg Games?
C: No. It is a giant golden egg, and the winners’ names are written on it.
S: Hmm. Kind of like the record of the history of the games, then?
C: Yes, I think you could say that.
S: Hmm, this all sounds quite fun and exciting. I’m guessing those two words might be some of your words for this book, am I right?
C: Yep. I’d say, fun, exciting, and funny. And there are neat pictures in the book, too.
S: I can see you liked the book Caramel. Did you know this was one of a series of books about these two penguins?
C: Yes. This is apparently book three in a series.
S: Did you know it when you began to read the book?
C: Not really, but you figure it out soon enough. It did say some things about some characters and events from the earlier books.
S: Hmm, but it seemed like you still enjoyed the book, even though you had not read the first two books.
C: Yes. I think you could definitely enjoy this without having read the first two books. But now I want to read them!
S: We’ll see if we can find copies to get in your paws some time Caramel.
C: And this third book kind of ends with a cliffhanger. What I mean is that there is some new mystery that we learn about.
C: Right. The main story of this book is finished, but there are hints about the next adventure, and I want to learn more!
S: I don’t know if there will be a fourth book though, Caramel. I did not see anything about it online. So maybe the author might have been thinking of writing a fourth book, but I’m not sure if she ended up doing so.
C: Oh I hope she does! I want to read more about these spy penguins!
S: I can see that! But perhaps this is a good time to wrap up this review. What do you want to tell our readers?
C: First I want to say to the author: please please please write a fourth book. And then maybe some more!