Baby Shower Idea: Writing and Ilustrating a Children's Book

It's a little amusing to me that I used initials yesterday for our friends' names, and today I'm going to share a good deal of their business, so let's just say now that their names are Kenneth and Emily, and we were friends with them here in Boston, and we plan to be their friends forever and ever.

They are the best sort of people, and they've been trying to start their family for eight long years. I'll let you insert what you know of infertility, and pretty much nod that all of that was involved. And now, to their surprise and gratitude, they're expecting a baby girl in ten weeks.

As I said, they came up last weekend to visit and I threw a small shower, and in what I think must be the curse of a lot of Pinterest activity, I was stressing about making it fabulous. Didn't I need favors and decorations and games and all of that? It turns out I didn't really need any of that, since it was more of a luncheon out at a restaurant, and only a few of us made it. But a few nights before, I couldn't sleep because my brain was trying to think of something we could do, and here's what I came up with: I would write a children's book for the baby, and we'd illustrate it at the shower.

This was Thursday, and the shower was on Saturday, so I had exactly one day to make it happen. I came up with the idea of making it about a dearly-loved grandmother, one that Emily spent a lot of time with as a little girl, so I wrote to Kenneth and to Emily's mom and mined them for as many details as they could think of. And then, in pretty much one sitting, I wrote this book. We didn't end up illustrating it at the shower (but it could have been awesome, right?), so I've been working on illustrations of my own and I'll mail them when I'm done. Here are the first two. [Please keep at the front of your mind that I am not a visual artist ...]

This is Emily.

This is Grandma Joan.

To make the illustrations I used pictures that Kenneth sent me, and modge-podged them onto nice paper using something like this technique, then embellished and added with paint and a fine-point sharpie. I tried to embrace what seemed like mistakes, and didn't worry too much about making them perfect. I think they'll do nicely.

So would you like to read the little story? I'll paste it in below. It's full of real details from Emily's childhood with her grandparents, but the story itself is imagined more or less, though you'll recognize where the idea came from. I'll add a note at the bottom to explain a few things.

Emily and Grandma Joan

 This is Emily. She has very blond hair and exactly thirteen freckles scattered across her nose. Every day her dad puts her hair in pigtails and ties them with big bright bows, and she goes to visit her Grandma Joan and Grandpa Dick.


This is Grandma Joan. Grandma Joan is a short, pretty lady with curly hair and glasses. She wears elastic-waist pants with a shirt tucked in, and she always has a smile on her face. Emily can’t remember ever seeing her wear a frown. Not for long, anyway.


This is Grandpa Dick. Grandpa Dick is very tall and thin with a big forehead. Every day he comes home for lunch and eats tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. He calls Emily, “Emmy,” and sometimes he calls Grandma “Old Battleaxe.” “Hello, Old Battleaxe,” he says. And then he gives her a big kiss.


Emily and her grandparents do all sorts of things together. They eat brunch at a hotel downtown called Little America. They take walks in the Art Garden. And most afternoons, Emily learns from her grandmother how to bake and cook and sew, and how to love her friends and be kind to those who need it most. Sometimes they take the cookies they’ve baked and load into her grandparents’ blue car, and go visit The Two A.M. Club, grandma’s friends she’s had since she was in kindergarten. Emily and Grandma sit on the big couches in her friends’ living rooms and eat cookies. Grandma makes her friends laugh, and on their way back out to the blue car, she holds Emily’s hand.


Emily is very happy, except that she can’t find a baby doll that looks just like her. She’s always wanted a baby doll that looks like her, but she’s nearly eight years old, and she hasn’t found one.

She’s very good at taking care of the baby dolls she already has. She has one with dark, shiny, long hair. She has one with dark curly hair, and one with no hair at all. Several of her babies are blond, but with the wrong number of freckles, or no freckles at all. She gives them baths and they sing along together to The Beatles, and she takes them to pick blueberries and offers them blueberry pie when she makes it with Grandma Joan, but none of her baby dolls are quite the one she’s looking for.


Sometimes she sits in the playhouse in her grandparents’ backyard, listens to the wind chimes on the back porch, looks out at all of the big trees, and misses a doll she’s never met, one that looks just like her.


One Tuesday, when she comes back inside from sitting thoughtfully in the playhouse, Grandma Joan asks her what’s the matter. Emily tells her, “I want to find a baby doll that looks just like me. She should be very blond and wear her hair in pigtails with big bows and have precisely thirteen freckles across her nose.”

Grandma Joan wipes her hands on her apron and calls Grandpa into the kitchen. “Do you think we can find a baby doll that looks just like Emmy, Grandpa?”

“I don’t see why not,” he says.


So the three of them pile into the front seat of the blue car, and go on a searching adventure. They look under the cushions of the big couches in Grandma’s friends’ houses, but there aren’t any baby dolls there, just pennies and old butterscotch candies covered with lint.


They ask the waitresses at Little America if they’ve seen any baby dolls that look like Emily, but they stand with hands on their hips and say they only know of dolls with seven freckles across their noses.


At the Art Park, they look behind all the statues, and they meet wiener dogs named Barney and Gus, but Barney and Gus haven’t seen any dolls lately, just red bones and a skinny mailman named Steve.


On their way back to the car, Grandma Joan says, “Well, Emmy, we better just make one ourselves.”

Grandpa drives them downtown and he sits in a coffee shop while they go to a handicraft store to buy supplies for a perfect baby doll. In the handicraft store, a very nice lady helps them, and as they leave, Emily sees a handsome light-haired boy playing near the door. She thinks about that boy long after they’ve left.


Grandma Joan helps Emily make very blond hair from light yellow yarn. They tie the yarn-hair with big red bows. Grandma helps Emily sew a strawberry swimsuit to match the one she’s worn all summer. Grandma helps her stitch exactly thirteen freckles across the doll’s nose.


Once they’re done, Emily brings the doll to grandpa and he is impressed. He asks her what the doll’s name is.

Emily says, “Alina Joan.” 

Notes: They, of course, plan to name the baby Alina Joan. Emily is a professional nanny, hence the "baby dolls she already has" and the things she does with them. Also, the handicraft store is Mormon Handicraft, and the little boy is Kenneth, whose mother has worked there for 30 years, though the crossing of their paths is imagined. One cool thing is that I guessed on what Grandpa might have had for lunch--tomato soup and grilled cheese--and it turned out to be exactly what Grandpa Dick usually had for lunch. It was lovely to realize I had guessed that right.

Here's to Emily, Kenneth, Grandma Joan, Grandpa Dick, and the soon-to-be Alina Joan.


Elise said…
You are just the most thoughtful friend. This is lovely.
Launie said…
Good Heavens Deja! Send that in!! It is a great story and much better than some of the kid books I have laying around here!!! You are a fab writer...
I totally agree that you should send it in!
Also, thank you very much. I love you :)
Russanne said…
Oh my heavens. I am speechless.

Tear soaked face, and speechless.
belann said…
Could be a new direction, my Deja. Very lovely. Remember that phase when you checked out hundreds of picture books from the little library in Colorado? Guess stuff sunk in.
Deja said…
Thanks, my friends! And you're beyond welcome, my dear Em.

Mom, I don't really remember that. I remember reading them with Ali, so I guess I must have. I have a feeling I'm going to start doing the same with Henrietta. For some reason it just seems like a really difficult market to break into. But I know so little about it. I'll have to read up on it.
Amara said…
Worth making the effort to break into it! I have saved some picture books for me even though my kids have pretty much already grown out of them, and yours is the kind I like: lots of details about a child's life, a nice picture of a feeling and time.
Amara said…
and I really like how the pictures are turning out!

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