If You Were Born A Kitten is a perfect bedtime book. It has the calming cadences of Reeve Lindbergh’s The Midnight Farm and it speaks to every youngster’s interest in their own coming-into-the-world story. The book shows the universality of being born while emphasizing the unique connection between the one giving birth and the one being born.
The births of 12 animals are the topic of this book. Most of them are mammals, though other classes are represented by a snake, a frog, a seahorse and a chicken. Where variety comes in is in the level of the baby’s dependence on its mother. The baby possum, bear, and mouse are totally dependent on their mothers whereas the baby snake and seahorse go off on their own immediately. But the aim of this book is not simply to convey biological facts. A profound sense of safety and connection is conveyed in the rhythm of the free verse and in the close-up drawings of infants and mothers. The scientifically accurate dry pastels which feature each animal with its mother (including hatching snakes and naked mice) are warm and fuzzy without being cloying.
The book ends by focusing on the birth of a human baby and ties in some of the other featured infants in a clever way. Here again oneness is emphasized at the same time that the experience is shown from the different perspectives of the birther and the born. I hope I’m not divulging too much by providing the text of the last pages of the book:
You rode curled beneath your mother’s heart,
Growing and growing. You floated in a salty sea, waiting
And waiting. Waiting for us who were waiting for you.
“We’re ready,” we said. And you were ready, too.
So you squeezed out, wailing.
Naked as a bear cub.
Soft as a porcupette.
Wrinkled as a deer mouse.
Free as a kitten.