BOARDWALK BABIES (Cybils 2021)

Based on the front and inside cover designs, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Marissa Moss’s BOARDWALK BABIES.

It’s the story of Dr. Martin Couney, who invented the incubator. Like most inventors, he faced a lot of scorn from those defending the status quo. We all know doctors do NOT like to be challenged.

On the logic that “All The World Loves A Baby”, Dr. Couney decided to get support for his invention in a way that would only work in early-20th-century New York City: Make the tiny/premature infants, some as small as one pound, in their incubators a sideshow exhibit on the Coney Island boardwalk; and use the entrance fees to pay for their medical care.

For forty years, the Couney continued saving over 6,500 babies, including his own daughter Hildegard. This book is his heartwarming story.

Loved

  • Let’s be very clear: This book focuses on success stories of preemies surviving and thriving. If there were non-success cases, those are not discussed.
    • I gave this book to a former baby/ late-term preemie born in 2012, to see if it would trigger a sensitive child (My daughter, it’s not creepy). She was very inspired by the story.
  • Discussion of different cultures’ ways of protecting their babies, underlines the “we’re all human” message and the (mostly) universal theme of parents’ love.
  • Sorry, going to be the mom of a left-brained boy: It’s both cool and important to see the story of a little-known but pivotal man in STEM told.
  • Backmatter has more fun facts about the Coney Island babies. Carey Grant was once a barker for this exhibit!

Caveat

  • As a surviving sibling, I can see how this book might sting a the sibling of a modern-day preemie who sadly didn’t make it.
  • The inside cover design is visually stunning, but a little cringe. Early 20th century boardwalk sideshows often featured “different-looking”/disabled people in an exploitative manner. While the Couney babies weren’t derided as sideshow freaks… I wish the back matter would have discussed that objectifying people who look different is morally wrong.
    • To be very clear, this is a trigger for me as a person who deals with a lot of harassment/abuse for my physical differences. This is not the case for most children, fortunately.

BOARDWALK BABIES is out now from Creston Books.

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