LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

There’s a New Crib in Town

on March 20, 2013 10:56pm

In the chapter of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens entitled “Lock-Out Time,”  Peter Pan remembers that once upon a time he had a mother who loved him very much, and he longs to go back to her.  But when he finally makes the decision to return to his mother forever and be “her boy,” it is too late; she has moved on and replaced him with another child.  Peter is devastated, and returns to his new home in Kensington Gardens, where he is happy, but forever haunted by the experience of being replaced.  During his encounter with Maimie, Peter feels guilty when asking her to stay with him in the gardens forever because she thinks she will be able to go back to her mother whenever she pleases and her mother will be waiting there for her, but Peter is finally forced to admit that, in his experience, this is not the case.  Maimie, terrified that her mother has already found a replacement for her, hurriedly leaves the gardens and Peter behind, in order to avoid the trauma of Peter’s life.
Although the extent to which Peter Pan is replaced is not experienced by most children and Maimie’s fears of immediate replacement are a bit irrational, the narrator acknowledges that many of us are familiar with the unsettling experience of a new addition to the family.  In the story, this is explained as “in fairy families, the youngest is always chief person, and usually becomes a prince or princess; and children remember this, and think it must be so among humans also, and that is why they are often made uneasy when they come upon their mother furtively putting new frills on the bassinet” (Barrie 33).  Children like to be special.  They like to be the center of attention, and enjoy being a novelty.  When their position is threatened, kids tend to get nervous.
This theme, or fact of life, has been taken on by many writers since Barrie.  Many modern books for young children take on this conundrum in a very straightforward, didactic manner, such as in Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby, one of many in the popular Berenstain Bears series.  Marc Brown’s Arthur the Aardvark, another popular children’s book character, also goes through this life adjustment in Arthur’s Baby.  In both of these books, the only child, who is soon to become a big brother, becomes both inquisitive and apprehensive about the arrival of their new baby sister.  In the end, however, this authors assuage the child’s fears and present the addition of the new baby as a new and exciting thing.

It’s not just young children who have to adjust to a new baby in the family.  In today’s culture, many parents have to deal with their pets’ reactions to tiny humans.  Walt Disney explored this idea in the feature film, Lady and the Tramp. When Lady, a spoiled cocker spaniel, learns that her masters are expecting a baby, she’s curious, but excited.  However, her other dog pals expose her to what a new baby will really mean- she’ll be chained out in the yard for the rest of her days, with no more naps by the fire and no more curling up at the foot of the bed.  (See video below)

As popular culture testifies, the addition of a new baby to the family is a timeless issue, which generation after generation of children (and pets) must come to terms with.


3 responses to “There’s a New Crib in Town

  1. Abigail Davis says:

    I really enjoyed your post, especially your examples! I cannot remember the last time I saw a “Berenstain Bears’” book! While I was reading your post another example popped into my mind:”The Rugrats Movie”. In this movie our favorite toddler protagonist, Tommy Pickles, comes across a problem that even his mighty plastic screwdriver is unable to overcome: a new baby brother. Tommy is less than thrilled with his new brother Dill (haha Dill Pickles, oh Nickelodeon, you guys are so silly) so he decides to take Dill back to the baby store, also known as the hospital. The movie then proceeds to lead the rugrats through a highly unlikely whirlwind adventure and Tommy comes to realize that perhaps being a big brother isn’t so bad and we all learned a lesson about family
    I think it’s interesting that writers through time keep returning to this theme of child angst over a new sibling. I do wonder about whether children are actually able to learn and take comfort from seeing fictional characters go through this situation though. Has any kid really thought “Well, Tommy and Dill turned out okay so I’m sure I will too?” And perhaps these stories could actually have a negative effect on children. By alerting them to the bad aspects of a new baby coming into the home it may actually cause them to have anxiety over the new arrival. After all, not every kid fears a new sibling joining the family but maybe seeing some of their favorite characters profess doubt over a new addition will lead them to do the same. That could be a bit of a stretch but if children are so susceptible to the end message of happy families might they not also take away some of the fictional child’s fears over a new baby?

    • sconage says:

      It was very nice how you connected the chapter “Lock-Out Time” to modern day children literature and the actually lives of young children. The idea of not being an only child anymore is probably a exciting and nervous time for any young child, and that’s why books that include their favorite characters may be an easy way to help the child understand what will happen. However, it is also important that parents are honest with their children and let them know that things will change; but that they still love them the same. From my experiences and things that I have learned in other classes, involving the other child in the pregnancy makes it easier for them to deal with the arrival of their new sibling.

  2. Rebekah says:

    There have been a lot of studies done about these types of books/films in regards to new babies. Turns out, if kids don’t have anxieties about a new baby, most of them just laugh at the other kids. However, a lot of kids have anxieities that they couldn’t quite place: they knew they were worried but didn’t know what about. Thus, the experts believe that watching another “child” (or bear or ardvark) name and work through their emotions about the new baby will help the child not only identify their own fears but realize that their fears are totally normal and fair. Of course, it is hard to really psychoanalyze a two-year old, but so far, that is the theory.

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