Little Zodiac. Baby Astrology. My Stars. My First Horoscope. Mind Body Baby: Astrology.
Every one of these titles refers to a real title or series currently being published for the very smallest of book-lovers: literal babies. They’re board books: books printed on thick cardboard so they can stand up to the rough-and-tumble way babies and toddlers interact with books (often using their mouths).
And they’re not coming from little New Age imprints you’ve never heard of, either. Alongside well-known indie presses like San Francisco’s Chronicle Books, imprints affiliated with major mainstream publishers like Macmillan, Hachette, and Penguin Random House are getting in on the action.
And, as Heather Schwedel points out in her recent Slate piece on the phenomenon, it says much more about the parents than the children.
It turns out that western astrology is trendy with the millennial set. Years of online think-pieces suggest that an unusually large swath of Millennials — whose adult years have been marked by two massive recessions, increasing climate anxiety, a resurgence of fascism, and now a global pandemic — turn to the stars for comfort, stress relief, and a way to make sense of upsetting and confusing circumstances.
According to online magazine editor Zing Tsjeng, it’s a perfectly ordinary response to out-of-control circumstances:
My personal belief is that people tend to turn to mysticism, spirituality, and the occult in uncertain times. And I feel that young people, especially, are living in one of the most uncertain times ever, at least in my living memory. There’s an increasing willingness to question the arranged order, break out of pre-defined social norms, and look for answers elsewhere.
Now, with the eldest Millennials pushing forty, baby book publishers realize that they’re marketing to a new crowd of moms and dads. The avocado-toast-munching, diamond-industry-killing kids are all grown up, and breeding in large enough numbers that there’s profit in adapting their adult interests into child-size storybooks.
Schwedel classifies the books as part of a larger trend in which parents buy books that purport to introduce little ones to complicated concepts. Science-loving parents might hand their infants Newtonian Physics for Babies, while devotees of literature and theater might offer up Shakespeare-themed board books.
There’s nothing inherently inappropriate about adapting big concepts for little readers, as long as you’re realistic about what the kids can actually take away from the text:
Authors and editors admitted they don’t expect babies to be able to name all 12 signs or even remember their own — and that’s true even of Aquarius and Scorpio babies (the brains of the zodiac). They understand very well that it’s not babies who actually buy books…
“Really, with any board book, you’re reading it to such a young kid that it is kind of this balancing act of ‘What is here for the child, and what is here for the parent?’” said Daria Harper, the author of the Little Zodiac series and an assistant editor at Chronicle. Harper said that with Chronicle’s books, parents will get to spend time thinking about (a very broad version of) a topic they like, and babies meanwhile will get bright colors, characters, narrative, and rhymes.
The books take care to describe all the signs in positive terms — Aries Baby is courageous, Aquarius Baby is friendly, Gemini Baby is curious — and they offer up all the key ingredients that make a good board book.
The major difference is that, while physics is real and literature is deliberate storytelling, astrology for babies straddles the line between the two: It treats the whimsical and fantastical as basic human truth. While plenty of Millennials enjoy the idea of astrology, less than a quarter say they believe it’s true. It’s all in good fun for them. But these books have children consuming the ideas behind astrology before they have the cognition and context to evaluate its claims.
Those claims can have an impact on how children see themselves, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. They can also affect how parents see their own kids. Editorial director Julie Matysik, whose publishing imprint handles My First Horoscope, says she notices her children acting in ways predicted by their zodiac signs:
As for whether she buys into astrology for kids this young, Matysik said she does see aspects of her kids’ signs coming out in their behavior. “My son is very headstrong,” she said. He’s a a Taurus. “He wants to do what he wants to do.” And her daughter, the Pisces, “loves to sing. She is just very musical.”
Well, yes. Preschool-aged children frequently enjoy singing and music. And as for the one-year-old who’s become headstrong and insistent on having his own way, that’s a developmentally normal trait hardly limited to Taurus toddlers.
Is it harmful for parents to filter their children’s traits through the lens of astrology or just a bit of harmless fun? It’s hard to say. When parents are open to recognizing and affirming the ways their children diverge from their expectations, and if they’re mostly tongue-in-cheek with their beliefs, the harm is likely minimal. But, as with any child-rearing trend, there will always be parents who take it too far.
And children deserve to be seen as people, not star signs.
(Image via Shutterstock)