What Are the Flour Babies?
Flour babies are, as the name suggests, six-pound (2,72 kg) sacks of flour that are meant to pass as babies in a scientific school experiment. The babies’ “parents”, charged with taking care of such a precious load for 3 weeks, are the 14 years old children from the naughtiest and worst learning class in an all boys school. Taking care of the babies entails keeping them always in sight, clean and dry, undamaged and safe. The boys agree to take on the task as Simon Martin, their colleague, and master of bad behavior assures that when the experiment ends they will be rewarded by an enormous flour explosion. Unfortunately for them, Simon just misheard a discussion in the teacher’s room. Their hopes are raised in vain. However, the reader is eager to find out what this all means for Simon and his colleagues.
The heartwarming thing is that Simon takes a liking to his flour “girl”. As the reader learns more about his past, the fact becomes understandable. Simon’s dad left him when he was just 16 weeks old. Therefore, this is an occasion for Simon to understand what it means to have a baby and why might his dad have left. And that is exactly what Simon does, he is struck by all sort of epiphanies.
In the interview below Anne Fine talks about the idea of sudden realisations. Children live in their own worlds, without having the same awareness of time as adults do. Things are new for them. For adults, entering that mind frame is a struggle. When they are around 10 years old, children suddenly begin having a sense of themselves. Anne Fine describes that from then on they make choices and understand that they have options.
Simon had already realised that he is a unique person, no one like him ever existed and no other will happen again.
He pulled the flesh on the back of his hand up into a miniature tent, and then let go. The skin sprang back instantly, keeping him in shape. His shape. It struck Simon for the first time in his life that he was totally unique.
The baby’s company, also, makes him understand that he likes the intimate relationship that develops between the caregiver and the one cared for. In the beginning, he is so absorbed by this new relationship, that he doesn’t even care how that makes him look in the other boy’s eyes. He judges that HE could have remained in a baby's life. He wouldn’t have run away.Yet, that is only the beginning. As the days pass, Simon becomes burdened by the baby. His colleagues feel the same. A resilient one, though, comes up with the idea of creating a crèche and earning some money with this occasion.
Anne Fine agrees that she writes about the world as she sees it; therefore, difficult subjects, such as abandonment and early parenting are this book’s meat. In no way are these subjects that children don't already know about. She sustains that you can not protect children. This approach is exactly what makes Simon such a fun and unusual character. His normality is unusual. Except his size and talent in sports, he has no strange or out of the world traits. What he learns are perfectly normal facts of life, yet facts that were not known before. The fun part is given by his quIrks and exaggerations, by how his teachers react to him, and by how he reacts to his findings. After investigating and wrecking his brains in order to understand why might his father have left him, Simon comes to the most normal conclusion. His father did not leave HIM, he didn't even know him, it was just an unfortunate situation. In a detached and nonjudgmental way, that is neither good nor absolutely condemnable, it simply is. Furthermore, this view gives Simon a new appreciation for the people that do stay, as his mother, as well as for those that take on caregiving tasks, as his teachers.
All in all, this is an educational book, painting the world in its real colors and teaching children about baby - parent relationships. The journey is a fun one due to the sincerity, sense of humor, and optimism.