When I was pregnant with my second son, I can remember going to playgroup, desperately asking other pregnant mothers how their older kids were coping with the idea of having a new baby in the family. One mum told me that her children were so excited about her having a new baby that they couldn’t wait to tell everyone. In the middle of the deli, hanging over the butcher’s counter or in the fruit shop, her daughter would shout out, ‘Mummy’s having a baby!’ and her son would chorus, ‘And Daddy’s having a horse!’
When I asked my friend whether her little boy seriously believed that his dad had a horse in his belly, my friend simply laughed. For her it was just a funny thing her little boy came out with one day, end of story.
But for me, it was just the beginning.
While the other mothers chatted over morning tea, I went to my bag and got out my writing book that I carry mostly everywhere and wrote down those two sentences – ‘Mummy’s having a baby.’ ‘And Daddy’s having a horse.’ I drew a red oblong around those words because I felt a zing, some inner recognition that this tiny moment had the potential to be transformed into a story.
Later, I couldn’t stop thinking about that little boy. What would it be like to be so convinced that your daddy was going to have a horse, that whenever you rested your head against his hairy belly, you were sure you could hear the horse burp? What would it be like to make plans for where the horse would sleep? What would it be like to turn up at the hospital with your grandparents, expecting and hoping to see the horse? How would you feel when you realized that after all that hoping and expecting, there was no horse and never would be?
And so I wrote a story about Lachlan, a boy who in some vague way felt left out of his mother’s pregnancy, a boy who was anxious about his dad, and scared about giving up his position as the baby of the family. A little boy brimming with both fear and hope but who could not put this into actual words.
I wanted the story to have moments where children and adults could laugh together. I also wanted it to be tenderly gritty. I wanted to show the different ways adults responded to Lachlan’s firmly-believed fantasy, from Lachlan’s exasperated parents, to his encouraging grandmother, to the good-natured but slightly condescending Sam the Handyman. I wanted to show that it was acceptable and understandable for children to feel a little ambivalent about a new baby, or even at times to feel like Lachlan and Caitlin, downright disappointed. I didn’t want the untidiness of their emotions to be swept away under a neat dose of saccharine.
Lastly, I wanted to show the gentle way Lachlan’s love for his baby brother creeps up on him, amid milky burps, warm baths and dirty nappies.
Children’s Publisher and Bookseller
“Lisa Shanahan is an author who routinely produces picture books on familiar topics, however, her handling of subject matter is always far from routine. She has a flair for finding an unexpected or even quirky angle that gives her work a fresh engaging character...Once again, Emma Quay’s work is distinctively endearing without being at all sentimental. Even the endpapers are a treat worth savouring.”
“...will not only delight young readers, but also cause adults to chuckle. This is a lovely story about a very close family unit and the ways in which they cope with the daily challenge's life throws up to us. It can be enjoyed at many levels.”
Shortlisted 2006: The Children’s Book Council Australia Book of the Year Award (CBCA) for Early Childhood.