A half a million babies are born premature each year, yet there are next to no picture books available about preemies. That's why My Baby Sister is a Preemie by Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse Diana M. Amadeo is so special.
One family's story is told through the eyes of Sarah, a young girl of about seven or eight. One morning she wakes up to find her aunt in her bedroom. "Your mommy went into labor," the aunt says. "Her body wants to have the baby. But it's a little too early. The doctors will try some medicine to keep the baby inside."
Later that day, Sarah's father picks her up from school and tells her she now has a baby sister named Amy. The baby, he says, was born early and is very sick. When Sarah visits her sister at the hospital, she's in a clear box called an incubator and has lots of wires and tubes on her body. She's smaller than Sarah's doll. A nurse explains the incubator keeps Amy warm and that a special machine helps her to breathe. She also shows Sarah a tube in Amy's arm that gives the baby fluids.
Things are different now that Amy is born. Sarah's mother spends much of the day at the hospital, and when she's home, she behaves differently. Sarah's mother confesses she's afraid. Sarah asks if Amy is going to die and her mother says, "I don't know....[But] pray for Amy. God is with baby Amy just like he's with us here at home."
Some time passes, and one day Sarah's parents seem happier. Amy is doing better and Sarah can visit her again. Amy looks bigger and has fewer wires attached to her. She has a tube in her throat for feedings, though, as well as wires leading to a monitor that show her breathing and heartbeat. Sarah gets to hold Amy, even so, and notes that she's lighter than her dolls.
The book closes with the idea that Amy will soon gain a little more weight and come home from the hospital. Sarah prays: "Thank you, God, for being with Amy - even in her little box."
The last two pages of the book include guidelines by R. Scott Stehouwer, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Calvin College. The doctor explains what Sarah's parents did right in the story (including listening to Sarah's concerns and being honest about what was happening with the baby) and how siblings of preemies can be helped through a difficult NICU stay.
What I Like: It's so rare to see accurate depictions of preemies in the media that my first round of kudos go to the illustrator, Cheri Bladholm. She shows baby Amy actually looking like a preemie: skin and bones and sunken, sleepy eyes. As a NICU nurse, Amadeo also does an excellent job of portraying a preemie's life accurately. And if you're afraid all this realism will scare your child, I think it's unlikely. There's nothing truly scary about these images. Everything is explained matter-of-factly, and young children respond well to that. Also, don't worry that this book is only suitable for children who have a premature sibling. It also works for any child who is curious about preemies.
What I Dislike: This volume doesn't touch upon all the difficult changes a child can expect after a preemie comes home...but perhaps that's for another book.
Overall Rating: Excellent.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 to 8, but my 3 year old loves it (perhaps in part because she was a preemie).
Publisher Info: ZonderKidz, 2005; ISBN: 0310708672; hardback; $9.95