Getting Near to Baby

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Getting Near to Baby
Author Audrey Couloumbis
Illustrator Ian Schoenherr
Country United States
Language English
Genre Realistic fiction

G.P.Putnams Sons

Penguin Young Readers Corp
Publication date
September 13, 1999
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 221 pgs (first edition)
Awards Newbery Honor (2000)
ISBN 9780399233890

Getting Near to Baby is a 1999 children's novel by Audrey Couloumbis. It was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2000 and is an ALA Notable Children's Book.[1] The book's target age range is for readers between the ages of 10 to 14. Getting Near to Baby, was influenced through the authors personal experience as a child, as her aunt experienced the death of her child, because of cystic fibrosis. At the same time a family living nearby had died of bacterial illness, by drinking tainted water.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

In the novel, the characters Willa Jo and Little Sister are dealing with their grief after the death of their baby sister after she was given contaminated water. Their mother is unable to handle her own feelings of sadness while caring for the two girls, and sends them to stay with her sister, Patty. Aunt Patty has no children, and her household is full of rules. Aside from moving into a home with their aunt things become even more difficult for the girls, because the aunt does not understand them entirely.

When Willa Jo and Little Sister climb up on Aunt Patty's roof to watch the sun rise, then decide not to come down for a while, Patty realizes that she has not been fulfilling the girls' emotional needs. Willa Jo reflects on her memory during her time at her Aunt Patty's house, like meeting Liz, the Piggly-Wiggly pickle, and much more.


  • Baby: Baby is the youngest child of Noreen. She had drank contaminated water at a carnival, was sick through the night and died in her mother's arms the next morning.
  • Noreen: Is the mother of Willa Jo, Baby, and Little Sister. After the passing of her youngest daughter baby, the grief almost seems unbearable. Noreen paints pictures that depict the Baby entering heaven.
  • Willa Jo: Willa Jo is the thirteen year old in Getting Near to Baby, who ends up living with her Aunt Patty, after the passing of her baby sister. In the story Willa Jo is announced in her full name by Aunt Patty, which is Willa Jo Dean.
  • Little Sister: Little Sister is a seven year old whom also goes to live with Aunt Patty after the passing of her baby sister. As a result of Baby, she has ceased to speak.
  • Aunt Patty: In Getting Near to Baby, Aunt Patty is Noreen's sister. Patty throughout the story comes off as very controlling, having several rules in her household. According to Willa Jo Aunt Patty is described as a short and wide woman.
  • Uncle Hob: Joins Willa Jo and Little Sister on the roof after bringing them food and water, after refusing to get down from the roof.

Reviews on the book[edit]

''Couloumbis' first novel wears its heart on one sleeve and its humor on the other. Together, they make a splendid fit." - Booklist, boxed review

"Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back- and - forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby's death, but also artfully illuminates each character's depths and foibles....The author creates a cast founded on likable, real- seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy." - Kirkus Reviews, pointer review

I know this is a kids' book, and kudos to Couloumbis for both tackling a hard subject and making the characters awfully well-defined people for the number of pages she spent developing them. However, some of the niggly things annoyed me. For example, why does "Little Sister" suddenly get a name 3/4 of the way through the book? The best book on child death for the elementary school reader I've read all year. We'll leave it at that. - A REVIEWER FROM GOODREADS

Theatrical adaptation[edit]

A theatrical version of Getting Near to Baby was written by Y. York and premiered by People's Light and Theatre Company (Malvern, Pennsylvania) in 2008. The play has subsequently been produced at ChildsPlay (Tempe, Arizona) and Seattle Children's Theatre, and Riverwalk Theater.


  1. ^ "Getting near to baby". WorldCat. Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  2. ^ Getting Near to Baby. September 1999. p. 242. ISBN 9780399233890. 

External links[edit]