author: Phoebe Fox
translator (poetry): Zahydée Gonzalez,
translator (back matter): The Spanish Group
illustrator: Jim Fox
Platypus Media, 2018
In this cross-species tribute to mothering and motherhood, youngest readers and listeners will find short, rhyming poems in English and Spanish that partner with luminous artwork. The diverse cast of mammal moms and their young includes horses, tigers, monkeys, seals, zebras, dogs, pandas, bats, polar bears, cats, deer, dolphins, and humans.
Fox’s soft, evocative watercolor-and-pencil portraits, each of a particular mammal mom and her young in their natural environments—on the ground, in the snow, in a glade, underwater, on
a tree, upside down, on the beach—are gentle and quiet, effectively complementing the text and communicating to young readers the tenderness of the nursing experience. The single-page illustrations work better than those on the double-page spreads, which, unfortunately, often result in gutter loss.
In outstanding examples of “show, don’t tell,” each quatrain (abcb) in English followed by its Spanish counterpart is as soothing and warm as the art accompanying it. Although some of English text seems a little forced, for the most part it’s very good. And rather than an attempt to mimic the English, Zahydée Gonzalez’ beautiful Spanish interpretations of the artwork maintain their own rhythm and syntax, independently showing the story of each painting. Her technique recognizes and honors young hablantes and their parents and teachers.
For older readers of English only, the back matter (“Did You Know? / ¿Sabías?”) is informative and enjoyable. Among other things, they will discover that: horses can’t vomit or burp, tigers can’t purr, and monkeys hold hands when they groom each other. However, it’s unfortunate that the Spanish contains numerous errors. For instance, while the English text states that seals can hold their breath and sleep under water “by resting half their brain at a time,” the Spanish translation states that they do this by “adormeciendo una mitad del cerebro a la vez” (numbing one half of the brain at a time). “Resting” would be “descansando.”
In this form, the back matter is useless for older readers who are hablantes and / or English speakers who want to become fluent in Spanish. This issue places an additional burden on Spanish-speaking teachers, who would have to end the book on page 21 and verbally modify the text or summarize the information in the back matter.
Any book—especially one for children—that’s presented as bilingual or multilingual must be faithful to both or all of the languages. If and when the Spanish errors in the back matter are corrected, Babies Nurse / Así se alimentan los bebés will be highly recommended. But as it is now, we can’t in good conscience recommend it.
Míl gracias a mis amigas y colegas, María Cárdenas y Judy Zalazar Drummond.