What It’s Like to Be a Baby


Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Children, September 2002

Illustrated by Michael Emberley

This book is the first in the series GROWING UP STORIES. The series stems from my interest and fascination with infant, toddler and early child development. Other parts are from the stories I told my own kids and my nieces and nephews over and over again, about their own development and how they learned to talk and walk and make a friend. I told them all the other wonderful things they could do and figured out how to do from the get-go — in short, how amazing and competent they were from the moment of birth.

Even though the text feels and sounds like fiction (that was my intention) and needs to tell a story — it really is nonfiction. So again my science — the social, psychological and intellectual development — has to be “accurate” or as “true” as possible to what we “know.” Then, of course, it must resonate with the child. It has to be chock-full of things that are fun and/or interesting for young children to listen to and look at.

With all the nonfiction I write, professionals who deal with children day in and day out have read drafts of this book to make sure that my “science” is correct both psychologically and cognitively. They did the same when Michael Emberley had pencil drawings for the art. And they were checked again before he finalized his drawings.

All of these “pros” are very excited about this book and the other books in the series and have noted how much fun young children have identifying with the children in these stories and hearing through story and science facts how they have and are “growing up.” The names of these experts are listed at the back of these books as a way to say “Thank you!” to them.

I began this project by talking with experts in the fields of infancy and the early years including talking with them about the new and ground breaking work in brain development. The media continue to point out not only how important these early years are-but also how fascinating, complicated and amazing babies and young children are. And I believe that young children also find the stories of their travels through their earliest years fascinating and amazing. Even when they are as young as 3 or 4 — or even when they are 5, 6, or 7 — they enjoy looking back on all they have accomplished since the day they were born.

  • The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book 2002, Nonfiction category (starred review)
  • Parenting Book of the Year Award, Picture Books, December/January 2003
  • Booklist (starred review)
  • A Bank Street College of Education 2003 Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • NICK JR Family Magazine Library Card, October 2002, “the best books in your local library or bookstore.”
  • 2003 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award

“This initial entry in a new Growing Up Stories series, focused on a child’s first five years, is the latest from the ace chroniclers of early childhood development (Happy Birth Day!; It’s So Amazing!). Each spread of the large-format book does double-duty: the bigger illustrations and bulk of the text track the growth of and family interactions with baby Benny-from his debut “Wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaaaah!” to his first birthday party. Set off from the main text in a box with blue type and cartoon-like spot art is a kind of developmental primer, which answers the “whys” of the behavior spotlighted in the narrative. For example, a spread showing Benny mouthing his foot (“Benny looked like a pretzel when he did that!”) explains that putting things in their mouths “helps [babies] learn whether something feels rough or smooth, soft or hard, comfy or not.” The spot illustration shows a baby nipping his sister’s nose. “He gwabbed by dose!” says a cartoon bubble, and the grandfather holding the child tells readers, “That’s how he learns about noses.” Emberley infuses his artwork with a spontaneity and humor that’s perfect for the mood of the text. He renders the rapture of new parenthood as confidently as he does the skepticism of new siblinghood, and does a terrific job of depicting Benny’s evolving physiognomy from newborn to toddler. Harris’s sprightly but detail-packed style is once again pegged at exactly the right level for her young audience. Any growing family should find this volume a welcome addition.”

-Publishers Weekly, (starred review), July 15, 2002

“There are lots of books about babies, but none that concocts such a sweet story and gives it heft by providing a bundle of facts. Robie and Emberley, who teamed to create Happy Birth Day! (1996), take that joyous book one step further by introducing infant Benny and following him during the weeks and months leading up to his first birthday. Children first meet a big-headed newborn crying, “Wha-wha-wha,” but in a few moments Baby quiets as his mother holds him and his father kisses him. About a third of the spread is devoted to factual information about why babies cry and then become calm. On the next page, as Benny nurses, children learn about breast milk and formula and about babies’ sense of taste. Both the story and the informative sections of the text flow easily and blend well. Emberley’s large-scale artwork, rendered in watercolor, pastel, and ink, brims with warmth. This family seems very real-from Dad, whose wonder is always somewhere in his facial expression, to Benny, who grows up page by page. And, of course, since the topic is babies, there are plenty of scenes showing things babies do: pee, poop, and spit up. This talented author and artist make even that seem charming.”

-Booklist, (starred reviews), September 15, 2002 and October 15, 2002

“The winning team of Harris and Emberley (It’s Perfectly Normal, BCCB 10/94; It’s So Amazing!, BCCB 2/00) are back with another warm, humorous, authoritative opus on the life cycle, this time following newborn Benny through his first year. Wrinkled, indignant Benny makes his debut as a howling head set against an angry orange backdrop, stretching his cavernous mouth into a roaring “Wha-wha-wha-wh…ah!!”, and his parents are right there with kisses and coos: “Benny heard his mommy’s voice and he turned his head towards her. He already knew the sound of her voice.” He steadily learns to respond to visitors, to practice sounds, to lift his head, turn over, mush his food, crawl, sit, and stumble down the path to toddlerhood. Harris dogs Benny every step of the way, offering substantial boxed insets that expand the details of his typical accomplishments and compare the little guy’s progress with a broader range of normal behaviors. (“Most babies crawl before they walk. Some never crawl at all.”) By omitting the weekly/monthly timeline approach common among many baby books, Harris mitigates the anxiety and the hubris young siblings and their older but not necessarily wiser parents may feel in comparing their own little tyke against a statistical norm. Emberley keeps the tone light, presenting a diverse gallery of infants and tots ebulliently marking each developmental milestone, and their baffled siblings pondering the babies’ mysteries; there’s plenty of knowing humor about babies’ habits, whether it be a well-timed diaper-change squirt of pee or an eating/self-decorating session with a mushy banana. Oblivious to the miracle of his own growth, droopy-drawered, towheaded Benny takes on the world at his own speed, and with this loving tribute to new life, Harris and Emberley give all babies permission to do the same.”

-The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, (starred review), November, 2002

“Many facts about babies in a humorous story.”

-A Bank Street College of Education 2003 Best Children’s Book of the Year (Parenting)

“It’s not all pee and poo! Marvel at the miracles of a baby’s first 12 months in Hello Benny! What It’s Like to Be a Baby, by Robie Harris. With large, splashy illustrations by Michael Emberley, the book is a fictional story about a lively newborn named Benny with boxed sections describing typical baby experiences. The text is action-packed with answers to fascinating questions: How well can babies see? What makes babies smile? Why do they try to put toes in their mouth? Why do they talk to themselves? How early do food preferences develop? And why do they stick out their bottoms? Older children will thrill to see how they, too, developed throughout their first year, and even parents will learn a lot here.”

-Bay Area Parent, March 2003

“Baby Benny’s mouth is wide open: “Wha-wha-wha.” He has just been born and “found out that light is bright.” The target audience, the siblings of any newborn, or awaited, baby, gets a great introduction from their own and Benny’s points of view. The story goes along in three styles: Benny and his parents appear in large watercolors, facts about child development are presented in sidebar boxes, and cartoon-figure children fly about, making comments on Benny or the facts. Conveys the excitement of that first year of development so intensely that you’ll soon be looking around for a baby to watch.”

-Chicago Tribune, September 8, 2002

“The Growing Up Stories are a thoroughly delightful way to show young children how remarkable they are and have been since birth, while giving older children and adults an amusingly told, but accurate lesson in child development. These growing up stories will add immeasurably to everyone’s knowledge about babies, toddlers, and young children and let all of us share in the wonder of growing up. These books are a joy for all generations: children, parents and grandparents.”

-Barbara T. Bowman, M.A.
Founder and past president, Erikson Institute
Past president, National Association for the Education of Young Children

“The initial title in a five-book series exploring the first five years of life, Hello Benny presents facts about human development from birth to age one, imbedded within the story of baby Benny’s first year. Benny’s tale is told in large black type on each page, while corresponding information about infant development is made clearly distinct by virtue of its smaller purple font and enclosure in a box. Large illustrations of Benny and his family expand the fictional story, and smaller cartoon-type images accompany the factual content. The expected landmarks of babyhood are included, from birth and baby vocalizations and emotions through rolling over, crawling and first steps. The details presented were selected to be of interest to young children, including a description of the taste of formula (“a stronger taste [than the milk we drink] because extra vitamins, salt, sugar, and fat have been added to it”) and early language development (“All around the world, most babies about a year old say words that sound like ‘Dada’ and ‘Mama’ no matter what language their families speak. At first, babies say these sounds because they are trying out all the sounds they can make and it’s fun. Later they learn that ‘Mama’ means ‘Mommy’ or ‘Dada’ means ‘Daddy.’”) A large picture format and a realistic baby’s debut will hold great appeal to young children nostalgic about their own recent past.”

-CCBC Choices 2003

“The author and the illustrator began collaborating with a book about sex (“It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health”) for older children, then on with books on reproductions and birth for younger children, and now they tell the story of the first year of Benny’s life. As they do in their other books, they leaven science with comics-style illustration and lighthearted commentary from the older siblings to whom the book is really addressed.”

-The New York Times Sunday Book Review, January 19, 2003

“Growing Up Stories are a wonderful opportunity for parents to share with their children the exciting stories about how babies learn and grow up. Parents will learn as much as the child will from reading these books together.”

-T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.
Clinical professor of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Author, Touchpoints and Touchpoints Three to Six

“Growing Up Stories are full of the information children find most compelling about their siblings and the younger children they see — but most especially, about themselves. These beautiful books offer story and science that will help our children appreciate their remarkable journey from baby to toddler and beyond.And as a pediatrician, I know that these delightful words and pictures will amuse and captivate while helping children, and their parents and teachers, understand the complicated, mysterious and humorous process of growing up.”

-Perri Klass, M.D.
Assistant professor of pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine
Author, Baby Doctor: A Pediatrician’s Training
Contributing editor, Parenting magazine

“Who’s most interested in how babies and little children grow up and learn? Not just parents, but their kids who’ve been there and just moved on.All children will find and celebrate themselves in these brilliant books. And jealous siblings and bullying classmates may find comfort and new understanding in the engaging stories and fascinating facts about ‘growing up’ from a new baby to a child.”

-Penelope Leach, Ph.D.
Author, Your Baby and Child
Contributing editor, Child magazine

“This action-packed story about one baby’s first year doubles as an answer to the many questions that little kids typically have about their earliest, impossible-to-remember experiences. The funny, true-to-life drawings catch Benny crying, breastfeeding, and looking just as cute as can be.”

-Parenting, December/January 2003

‘Hello Benny!’ a delightful primer on newborn life [? Check this]“First-time parents may get as much out of “Hello Benny!” as young siblings-to-be. Author Robie H. Harris, who wrote the award-winning picture book about puberty “It’s Perfectly Normal,” crafted “Benny” in a similar format on oversized pages with full-color, cartoonlike drawings by Michael Emberley. Benny’s “Wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaaaaah!” at birth begins the warm-and-fuzzy story in large type. A gentle whisper from Dad and a tiny kiss on the fingers from Mom quiet Benny, who looks around in wonder. In small purple type on the same page, readers find a straightforward explanation of why babies cry and how well they can see. The story of Benny, subtitled “What It’s Like To Be a Baby,” takes readers step-by-step through what it’s like to live with a newborn (nursing, diapers, facial expressions, discovering toes, sitting up, crawling). Accompanying each phase is a bold, dramatic drawing of family members caring for Benny. Tucked into the informational boxes is plenty of Emberley humor. He floats siblings’ comments in dialogue balloons and shows baby inevitables in little drawings, such as what Benny does during a diaper change by Dad. “Benny” launches this talented pair’s picture book series “Growing Up Stories,” which will cover the first five years of life. Year one in “Benny” is a smashing success.”

-Judy Green, The Sacramento Bee, September 15, 2002

“Children are exposed to a wealth of information as Harris (Goodbye Mousie, 2001, etc.) begins a series that will educate children about the first five years of life. In this first, focusing on the first 12 months, the reader is introduced to the newborn, Benny. From incomprehensible gurgle sounds to smiling for the first time to his first spoken word, Benny is observed in his home environment quickly learning all the things that are necessary for his development. Each page contains a text box of additional facts that explain in greater detail a baby’s actions throughout the growing stage, answering the many questions that curious readers might have-and quite a few they haven’t thought of. The content is richly comprehensive; preschoolers will learn all of this material gradually, through multiple readings. Emberley (You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, 2001, etc.) uses a blend of computerized and traditional artwork with pen, colored pencils, and watercolor to create each one of Benny’s friends and family members. On white matte paper, the painted portraits are suspended above the text, while others mix in it. The visual references that correspond to the supporting facts make this piece educational and lots of fun.”

-Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002

“Harris and Emberley begin a new series on child development-Growing Up Stories-with this illustrated account of a baby’s first year. The story of Benny and his parents celebrates the family’s joy in the many milestones of that year, from Benny’s full-throttle scream on arrival to first gurgles, smiles, rolls, and steps. Boxed information on every spread explains each new stage of development: why babies put other people’s fingers-or even noses-in their mouths; how they show their likes and dislikes; that babies from all around the world make many of the same sounds. Benny’s story alone will be enough for the toddler and preschool crowd, who are sure to ask for comparable stories of their own babyhood, while older children can appreciate the facts. Emberley depicts Benny and his parents in his usual fashion as a happily rumpled family-even the typeface (Lucida Casual) is easygoing-and the babies and kids in the boxed sections reflect a range of diversity. Though not as indispensable as the creators’ breakthrough books on human sexuality (It’s Perfectly Normal, rev. 3/95; It’s So Amazing, 1/00), this one too will be welcomed for its relaxed style and reliable information.”

-Horn Book Magazine, November/December 2002

“Oh, baby! The award-winning duo behind Happy Birth Day! and Hi New Baby! welcomes a new bundle of joy: a five-part picture book series about child development. The wonderful debut volume chronicles the world of a newborn from first cry to first birthday. Yet what makes this title so fascinating are the breezily illustrated factual asides that solve such head-scratchers as what a wee one’s hiccup means and why babies chomp on their feet. Created with the same warmth and attention to detail found in past Harris-Emberley efforts, “Hello Benny!” toddles forward as a must-read for both kids who love hearing about their baby days and those with a new sibling.”

-FamilyFun magazine, November 2002

“Eat, sleep, pee and poop. That’s what new babies do, according to this thorough look at the first year of life. Fact-filled sidebars, connected by a made-up story, cover topics such as sight, smiles, creeping, crawling and baby talk.”

-San Francisco Chronicle holiday book review, November 17, 2002