Candlewick Press, July 1996

Illustrated by Michael Emberley

HAPPY BIRTH DAY! is a story I told my children when they were young — a story they asked me to tell them over and over again. They loved to hear how amazing they were and about all the things they could do on the day they were born. Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of spending six months learning about babies at Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s Child Development Unit at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. I had always loved babies, including newborns, and found them fascinating. This was a chance to learn even more about them and how capable they are from the moment of birth. The combination of being at Dr. Brazelton’s unit, and hearing him talk about babies and seeing him interact with brand-new babies only a few hours old — and my being a mother and being “crazy” about babies — certainly influenced my decision that one day I was going to write a picture book on the first day of life.

I was thrilled when Michael Emberley said he would create the art for this book. But since he had never been at a birth, and it had been many years since my children’s births, I decided we both had to see a birth and see a newborn during its first 24 hours. So luckily, Dr. Barry Zuckerman and Dr. Laura Riley at Boston Medical Center arranged for Michael and me to be in the delivery room when Samuel was born. His birth was amazing! And he was amazing from the moment of his birth! After the birth, Michael and I stayed in the room with Samuel and his mother. Then we watched Samuel in the nursery and went back the next morning and spent a good part of the next day with Samuel and his mother. This was our beginning research. I believe it made our book better. The text and art went back and forth to experts in infant and early-childhood development — until we felt we “got it right.”

  • Booklist Editor’s Choice (starred review)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Parents Best Book of The Year winner
  • Parenting Reading Magic Award winner
  • Children’s Literature Choice List title
  • New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, 1996
  • Recommended by Parenting, Parents and Parent’s Choice

“A warm, tender picture book in which a mother tells her daughter about her first 24 hours of life outside of the womb. The opening picture shows a bewildered, wrinkled, life-sized baby, still with her umbilical cord, supported by the doctor’s hands. The cord is snipped, a nurse slips a hat on baby’s head, and mother and father envelop her with love. Mother breastfeeds her, and relatives gather to admire, take photos, and welcome the new arrival. The description of the infant’s first sounds and actions is gentle and poetic. Emberley’s illustrations in pencil and pastels fill the oversized pages with soft-focused, cozy colors and true-to-life detail. For the special moment when parents want to answer a child’s questions about birth, this book offers both facts and reassurance. The arrival of Happy Birth Day! is an occasion worth celebrating.”

-School Library Journal, (starred review), December 1996

“The first moments and hours after a baby is born are among life’s most precious. Here, that special interlude of newness and wonder is shared with young readers, who invariably delight in hearing about the day they arrived in the world. Harris addresses this audience directly: “Suddenly there you were-a whole new person, our baby! We saw all of you from head to toe and we loved you the moment we saw you.” All the milestones of a baby’s first day are lovingly chronicled, from the first cry and the snipping of the umbilical cord to the cuddling, the nursing-even the first burp and yawn. Tenderness flows like a current throughout the warmhearted prose and the gentle, sweeping lines of Emberley’s realistic artwork. With its oversize format and large-as-life illustrations, this book telegraphs a sense of immediacy that makes it all the more appealing.”

-Publishers Weekly (starred review), June 17, 1996

“Young children love to look at photographs of babies, especially pictures of themselves when they were little. They marvel at their tiny toes and fingers, squinty red faces, wrinkly feet, and dainty pink nails. In a seamless blending of text and artwork, this picture book goes a session with a photo album one better, catching close up the miracle of a newborn baby and the sweet joy and physicality of its first day in the world. Harris’ affectionate first-person text, focusing on one young couple welcoming a newborn, is very personal: “I’ll never forget the moment you were born…You let out a loud cry – about as loud as a coyote howling at the moon.” Yet it is full of the universal wonder of new life and the quiet drama of family bonding. Emberley’s paintings are spectacular. Large, realistic, and softly colored, they literally glow as they catch the tender moments: the baby girl naked, eyes barely open, umbilical cord still attached; squalling, fingers clutching; at mother’s breast; in father’s arms; peacefully asleep encircled by Mom and Dad. The book will be a hugely appealing library item, with potential for small-group use as well as lap sharing. An interview with Harris, on page 1495, lends further insight into the making of this touching book, which speaks with joy and wonder to young children and their parents.”

-Stephanie Zvirin, Booklist, (starred review), May 1, 1996

“People get softhearted at the birth of a baby. Both the exquisitely sensitive aesthete and the bulky bodybuilder may shed tears at his or her baby’s birth. “Happy Birth Day!” by Robie H. Harris, takes on the difficult task of showing that magic. A large format book with drawings in pencil and pastel, it chronicles a mother’s telling her day-old baby about the process of her birth, all the way from “Out pushed your head covered with wet and shiny hair” to “‘Happy Birth Day I whispered to you, and soon fell fast asleep too.” The progress of the baby, who looks at first like a wrinkled old woman with a doubting frown but quickly and magically in the last picture has become a just-nursed cherub asleep on the breast, is real and moving. Parents will feel, again, what it was like; children will love the two-page close-up pastel drawings by Michael Emberley. (Incidentally, the same team is responsible for “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a remarkably useful and entertaining book about sex and where babies come from.)”

-The New York Times Book Review, 1997

“In “Happy Birth Day” by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley, a mother tells her child about its first day of life from the moment of birth through the end of a magical, memorable day. Large, softly glowing pictures of the tiny, wrinkly baby reinforce how wrapped in love it is and how thrilled is the family. A perfect gift for expectant parents and kids.”

-The Huckleberry Bookshelf, May-October 1996

“Happy Birth Day taps into children’s desire to hear again and again and again the story of the day they were born. Robie Harris beautifully conveys this drama, told from the mother’s point of view. Details such as skin “soft as wrinkled velvet” and the newborn’s serious gaze and deep sleep will connect with parents the world over. Especially noteworthy are Michael Emberley’s pencil-and-pastel illustrations, which are tender without being sentimental. In my favorite, the infant peers out at the world for the first time, looking surprised and a little disgruntled at the lights and noise. The soft tones and emphasis on close-ups of mother, father and baby highlight the miracle of birth.”

-Washington Parent, May 2003

“Large, full-page paintings provide a realistic and tender introduction to a baby’s first day of life.”

-New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, 1996

“Preschoolers are intensely curious about newborns-especially the newborn they themselves once were. But until now, there has been no first-rate book on this inherently interesting subject…With affection and clarity the author recalls the great day her own child was born. Emberley’s dramatic large-format pencil and pastel drawings have the joyful intimacy of a family photo album.”

-Parenting, June / July 1997

“Perhaps designed for the baby-gift market (the title page is preceded by a page for recording a newborn’s vital statistics), this book occupies an unusual niche: There are plenty of books about gestation, birth, and infancy, but this one focuses on the baby’s experiences in the minutes and hours immediately following birth, particularly on the bonding between parents and newborn. In carefully detailed text and pictures, Harris and Emberley (It’s Perfectly Normal, 1994) make the day of firsts realistic without being clinical: The wrinkled, puffy baby is more presentable than many newborns. Large, smiling adult faces and solicitous hands surround the baby in nearly every picture. The earthier aspects of infancy are all noted: cutting the umbilical cord, nursing, peeing, pooping, burping, sneezing, and hiccupping, as well as sleeping and crying. The predominant message, however, is of the love and wonder that greet this child from her first moment.”

-Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1996

“I’ll never forget the moment you were born…Suddenly there you were – a whole new person, our baby! We saw all of you from head to toe and we loved you the moment we saw you.” What a comforting way to begin a book – and life. The message in this beautiful selection is clear throughout – your birth has brought overwhelming happiness to everyone in the family. Tender illustrations are coupled with gentle text, making this a celebration of the joy and love felt when a baby is born.”

-The Dallas Morning News, January 15, 2003