Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis, illustrations by Gwen Millward
First reviewed on 10/4/10, The Bog Baby has stayed with me. Magical, sweet and a little sad, Jeanne Willis's story is one your children will remember well into adulthood. Gwen Milward's lush, pastoral illustrations perfectly capture the idylls of childhood as well as the emotions that come with bringing home a wild creature. A must have for your family and a lovely gift.
When I travel, I inevitably end up in a bookstore, especially if it is an independent bookstore or, even better, an independent children's bookstore, the rarest of breeds. A few months ago I was in Seattle and, while I didn't make it to any of the great children's bookstores they have there, I did make it to some wonderful independent stores that had great kid's sections. There I found a few treasures that were not on the shelves at the store where I work! One of them was The Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis with pictures by Gwen Millward. This beautifully illustrated, lush story of what happens when two girls bring home a wild creature works on two levels. First, the story itself. Two sisters, one of whom narrates the story, sneak down to Bluebell Wood instead of going to a friend's house - which is what they told their mother they were going to do - because the girls aren't allowed in the woods by themselves. Once there, they discover a Bog Baby, splashing in the water and sucking on his toes. He lets them scoop him up and play with him. They are so enchanted that they take the Bog Baby home and make a habitat in a bucket for him to live in, which they then hide in the shed. The illustration of the Bog Baby's home away from home is so gorgeous and I wish I could share with you here. Millward finds the perfect angle from which to show the shell, rock and flora laden bucket with a sparkly, cool water in the bottom. The girls even make the Bog Baby a little leash and take him to school. Soon, however, he doesn't want to eat the cake crumbs that the girls have been feeding him and he doesn't want to come out from behind the rocks in the bucket. The Bog Baby is clearly not thriving in his new home and the girls know it is time to ask Mom for help. Mom is both gentle and generous, even getting a bit teary remembering Bog Babies from her youth. She gathers up the bucket and the girls and they return the Bog Baby to the pond.
The book has a wonderful ending. The narrator, now a mother herself, says that she never saw a Bog Baby again, but her daughter has been to the woods and seen thousands of them - at least that's what she tells her and that is what she believes. Subtly, the messages of the importance of asking for help, respecting wildlife and believing are woven throughout the story. The final page of the book is a keepsake where readers can record their own sightings of Bog Babies and are encouraged to send records of their sightings to the publisher. In fact, Jeanne Willis has started a Bog Baby Blog where readers have done just that!
Gwen Millward's illustrations are so magically, colorfully, gently gorgeous that I have to show you more of her work. Willis and Millward have a second book that they have done together titled The King of Tiny Things that, sadly, is not available in the States. As best I could gather, the themes are similar to those of The Bog Baby and play out just as wonderfully. I hope all of you who have little ones with big imaginations will seek this book out before that innocent sense of wonder has worn off for your children!