Written by Eoin Colfer
Illustrated by Chris Judge
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)
New York Times best-selling author of the children’s fantasy series Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer takes young readers on a journey with six-year-old Erin whose imagination allows her to look up and imagine animals made of clouds until one day life takes her on a different path where looking up at the sky no longer matters.
Cloud Babies: Sometimes All We Need To Do Is Look Up is a heartfelt and much-needed picture book that will be meaningful for both kids who have spent time in the hospital, and their friends, as well as others who have not. The digital illustrations by Chris Judge, whose family experience with illness inspired this story, bring life to the pages with photos of mountains, lakes, and blue skies filled with clouds drawn as cats, dragons, foxes, and polar bears – all the cloud babies Erin saw as she looked towards the sky. “It’s a snappy-happy crocodile!” she would shout, looking over the river with Mom and Dad supporting her by her side.
But one day a sad dog cloud can be seen through Erin’s bedroom window, a harbinger of trying times ahead. (See the art below.) Readers learn that Erin will need to spend some time in the children’s hospital. This gut-wrenching scene shows Dad carrying Erin and her stuffed animal. Mom holds a large bag and is guided by the nurse to the children’s ward. There are rows of beds each with various children tucked under the covers next to buzzing machines that beeped. We are introduced to a doctor named Bernadette, and Albert who brings extra-special meals. These spreads convey the kindness Erin receives from all the adults working so hard to make her better, bringing light to an otherwise traumatic situation. But Erin continues to play cloud babies with her Dad. On days when her Dad cannot visit, she even plays the game with other patients.
When Dr. Bernadette gives them the great news that Erin can go home, but would still need “hospital days,” we turn the page to see her return to school. Everyone had grown so tall. Erin shares her story of the cloud babies with the class but teacher Ms. Rose turns it into a lesson on how clouds are formed. “Maybe cloud babies are for little kids.” When she returned for “hospital days” she noticed that the hospital friends were different from the school friends. She learned to keep her two worlds apart. Erin missed seeing the cloud babies in the sky.
Tucked in Mom’s arms on a hospital day, Mom tells her that most of her classmates will never see her real, warm, loving, important hospital life. Working in the family garden, Mom gets an idea and suggests it to Ms. Rose. Classmates are invited to the hospital to be Book Buddies. Surrounded by her hospital and school friends, Erin teaches them how to play the cloud game. “‘Cloud babies do make you feel better,’ Ms. Rose says.”
The story ends with greens, blues, and red drawings of fluffy cloud babies in the sky with all the friends looking up. “Sometimes, when you’re down,” said Erin, “all you need to do is look up.” On the copyright page, Eoin Colfer shares a note with readers explaining that if you are lucky enough to be strong and healthy, perhaps you can be especially kind and understanding to children in your school who have spent time in a hospital. This page also explains that “All the children’s pictures in this book were painted by Juno and Joey Judge.”
This tender, thoughtful story pulled on my heartstrings as I spent time in the hospital when I was five and a story like this would have meant so much to me. It brings comfort to children facing hard times and guides those who want to give support but are not sure how to start. To see more of Chris Judge’s cloud babies log on to Instagram @adailycloud.
- Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder