Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Magnificent Mysterious Moms (FAMILY magazine reviews)

During the month of May we can take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy treasured books with and about mothers, and the mysterious connections we share with the magnificent women who birthed us. Don’t miss this chance to celebrate with any of these amazing books.

Seven Hungry Babies
by Candace Fleming
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Atheneum, $16.99, Ages 3-7

In this rollicking, rhyming story, Fleming sets a frenetic pace with Mama Bird dashing between nest and various locations -- involving garden, millpond, schoolyard, and orchard -- to feed loud, hungry offspring. The mom’s action with sounds: flappa-flap, swoop-swoop, yum, changes slightly each time she goes hunting, adding movement to the repetitive sounds, and a different yummy food treat for each tiny, noisy bird baby to “G-u-u-u-l-p!”
The mother endearments; “precious cuddle-fluffs, noisy warble pies, sweet hatchlings, little egg-crackers,” grow progressively distracted while the young birds continue to cry, screech, shout, shriek, roar and squall the incessant “Feed us! Feed us!” As Yelchin’s dazzling primary colors accent both the babies’ impatience and mother’s intensifying fatigue, readers breathe relief with Mommy Bird when she collapses in exhaustion on a nearby branch, just before the peeping begins again.
Perfect to read aloud, this irresistible picture book brings Daddy along, by granting Mama the final word.

Before You Were Here, Mi Amor
by Samantha R. Vamos
illustrated by Santiago Cohen
Viking, $15.99, Ages 3+

This tender story shows the preparations made by extended family, as members anticipate the new baby’s arrival, and make their own contributions to welcome a new life. Appropriately, Mami is central -- where the book begins and ends, as well as throughout -- eating, swinging, dancing, and especially with the recorded heartbeat.
Papí builds a rocking chair, hermana draws a picture, abuelo plants a tree, tío cooks arroz con leche, tía makes a mobile; all cooperate to greet the infant, each with an offering that confers a blessing, choosing gifts from their hearts to extend their love. The warmth of the bright colors and the content of Cohen’s joyful paintings supply clues for the Spanish words Vamos effortlessly weaves through her story, accenting the Latino cultural heritage of the newborn.
Using a familiar theme, the fluid narrative blends English with Spanish, furnishing a superb picture book for bilingual families, and particularly for children who are interested in what happened before they were born. A glossary at the end confirms any words in doubt.

Will You Still Love Me?
by Carol Roth
illustrated by Daniel Howarth
Albert Whitman, $15.99, Ages 3-5

Reassuring rhyming text comforts young animals, and notably a young boy, as each queries his mama, wondering “will you still love me?” when the new baby comes. From kitten to mouse, cub, duckling, even bunny, they individually ask similar questions: “Will we still have time to hop through the meadow and play? Will you help me find some carrots we can munch all day?”
The affectionate reminders, each one slightly different, are exemplified by this motherly reply: “’Of course,’ said Mother Bunny. ‘You’re my extra-special one. And I’ll love you just as much when the baby bunnies come.’”
Roth’s use of gentle rhythm and cheerful language emphasizes the strong links between mother and child, and harmonizes fluently with Howarth’s lovingly executed watercolor, ink and colored pencil illustrations. Together they combine, producing a sympathetic story, to settle any doubts a first child might entertain, about the approaching arrival of a new sibling.

Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons
by Rob D. Walker,
illustrations by Leo & Diane Dillon.
Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 5-9

Featuring cultures, religions and specifically, languages from around the world, this exceptionally beautiful book dramatizes the best hopes mothers (and fathers, although they are not mentioned here) have for their children to be courageous, compassionate, strong individuals. In this celebration of both our striking human similarities and profound differences, the powerful loving text chants its rhythmic rhymes in smooth step with elegant paintings.
In each of thirteen double page spreads, a single poem is spotlighted, with its translation into the language of the individuals highlighted: “Mama says/Respect all life/And treasure every tree/Mama says/Our planet needs/Each flower, bird, and bee.” The accompanying circular illustration is an intimate glimpse of the mother/son bond, and the full-page companion painting on the facing page offers a reflection of the child’s active participation in the mother’s counsel.
The final spread is a visual representation of the adults the boys from the earlier pages have become. (“I listened to what Mama said/And now I am a man.”) An Afterword identifies the twelve languages whose interpretations appear on the preceding pages, with an explanation and credit to the language experts consulted.


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