If you've ever had the chance to watch a sonogram, you know that this grainy, black-and-white entree into the uterine world is an intriguing, albeit surreal, experience. Fetuses twist and turn and surprise the viewers at times with a profile, a hand or foot, perhaps even a discernible smile.
One such experience was the inspiration for Barbara Park's latest picture book, Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here! A Word from Your Baby-in-Waiting. After seeing her own grandson-to-be in utero, Park composed a poem, cleverly narrated in the voice of the unborn child.
The cover art shows our expectant mother festooned in a brightly colored dress with baby peering out from the womb, like an opaque window on the mother's belly. Setting the amusing tone of the book is baby, mouth gaping and shouting the title of the book.
Baby begins his missive, "Dear Ma," and continues in rhyming couplets complaining about the lack of entertainment in his "womb with no view." Text zooms around the page, including a clever spiral mimicking the twisted appendages of a growing child. With increasing aggravation our narrator declares, "I'm all in a heap here. My feet are asleep here."There is more than just boredom on this baby's mind, however. There's a bit of worry, too. In a series of thought bubbles, we hear the anxious musings of one who hopes that the baby supplies are in order and that a family who knows how to hold an unsteady head and deal with the "grouchies" is ready and waiting.
Park, known for her Junie B. Jones chapter books, has done a superb job of balancing humor with poignancy. Argentinean illustrator Viviana Garofoli provides an excellent complement to Park's playful tone, in pictures that are brightly colored and filled with movement.
A perfect gift for expectant mothers or siblings-in-waiting, this book is sure to charm, amuse and perhaps renew one's curiosity about what it must be like to be a creature so small, waiting to enter this big, bright world.
Jennifer Robinson is a teacher in Baltimore.