Tuesday, November 13, 2007

review: Hush, Little Baby by Shari Halpern

Hush, Little Baby illustrated by Shari Halpern. NorthSouth, 1997; 2007 (978-0-7358-2167-5) $6.95 pb

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word,
Mama's going to buy you a mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird won't sing,
Mama's going to buy you a diamond ring."

Children's lullabies are often strangely ambivalent in tone, so it's always interesting to see how an illustrator approaches them. I think Halpern made some good choices here, turning what's essentially a laundry list of potential disasters into a cozy picture book. Instead of sticking faithfully to the text, the pictures show all positive, sometimes surprising interactions: the baby (really a toddler) sings along with the mockingbird, swings on a diamond ring constellation, tickles the nose of the bull that joins him in the cart and rides on the back of the dog named Rover in a circus act. Each square collage illustration is framed by smaller squares that look like quilt pieces, each thematically linked to the main illustration; every picture has an individual blend of textures and colors, some looking jewel-toned and sparkling, others muted and homey. Though the scenes are sometimes exciting, the small size and simplicty of the pictures help keep the mood of the book mellow for bedtime.

An uncomplicated arrangement of the song is included at the end; the book could also be just read aloud, but it's such a lovely melody, it's worth learning if you don't already know it. (1-4)

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