The morning I gave birth to my daughter, I shuffled very slowly and reluctantly into the hospital. I was terrified. Terrified of labor and childbirth, but even more terrified of being in charge of another life. I mean, I couldn’t keep a plant alive. How could I be expected to keep a human alive and guide her towards becoming a kind, empathetic, well-rounded adult?
It’s more than 11 years later and I’m still sometimes seized with this fear. Am I steering her (and the little sister that came after her) well? Am I letting them make mistakes but encouraging them to stay on the right path? Am I giving them the knowledge they need to thrive?
The moment I opened up Oliver Jeffers’s new picture book, Here We Are, I recognized a fellow wide-eyed new parent. I have adored reading his other stories to my daughters because of their gorgeous illustrations and the layers of meaning packed into each and every sweet and humorous tale. But this book struck right into the center of my maternal heart.
Inspired by the birth of Jeffers’s son, Here We Are is a guide of sorts — a guide to living on Earth and being a good human. It’s a dad just trying to make sense of things for his brand-new baby, and maybe a little for himself as well.
The book starts with an introduction to Earth and its position in our solar system (my 6-year-old loved poring over these illustrations since she’s learning about the solar system in school). From there, it describes elements of our world and its inhabitants. Jeffers explains that people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors but we’re all essentially the same.
I was glad to see that this part really struck my daughter. She took her time looking at each drawing of people from all walks of life. They’re all different colors — from peach and brown to pink, green, and purple — and range from teensy to hulking. They’re also from a variety of cultures and social classes. There’s a queen and a shoeless beggar. A man in a baseball cap and wheelchair and a sumo wrestler. A woman in a burka and two brides in their wedding gowns.
Here We Are ties the great big cosmos and all of us tiny little humans together: While Earth is huge and there are many people living here, we’re all in this together. Jeffers reminds us to be kind and that we’re never alone — a message that’s as comforting to parents as it is to small children.
Heartwarming and sprinkled with Jeffers’s signature wit, this story touched my daughter and me in different ways. My daughter was taken by the vastness of the universe and how teensy humans are in comparison. She was in awe of how small Earth seems when you look at it as part of the solar system, even though things like mountains and skyscrapers seem unbelievably big. She also loved the idea that we’re all the same. She kept repeating “we might look different, but we’re all people.” I loved that.
As for me, I immediately related to the desire to explain our chaotic little planet and all of its beauty to my children. I also loved that it dwells on the importance of kindness (something I hope to instill in my babies) and the idea that we’re all on this crazy journey together. The latter is something that’s especially important for new parents to hear, making this book a great gift for anyone who is expecting.
When I look back at my wide-eyed, very pregnant self, I wish I had this book tucked into my hospital bag. Not only would it have given me a place to start when it came to raising my baby, it would have calmed my own fears as well. After all, we’re all in this together.