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Before You Were Born Hardcover – March 24, 2005


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 3 - 8 years
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press; First Edition edition (March 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596430281
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596430280
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 9.8 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,124,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 1-3–A child asks for a story about "before I was born." What follows is a tale from Jewish legend, based on stories of Lailah, the guardian of the human soul. It is this angel, readers learn, who watches over the Treasury of Souls in heaven. Once a soul is chosen, she brings it down to earth and plants it as a seed in the mother's womb. There she proceeds to tell the soul the secrets of the world: the languages of the animals and of the wind plus the history of that soul, it's past and future. When the time comes to lead the child into the world, she touches the baby's upper lip, creating an indention, as a reminder to keep this knowledge a secret. "But don't worry," the father tells his now sleeping child, "you have the rest of your life to learn all those wondrous secrets again." As a folktale, this story is lovely and provocative. It combines a compelling explanation of a universal physical trait with a religious view of the soul's journey through life. The textured, mixed-media art has a nice mixture of unpolished innocence as seen in the landscapes and calm serenity that exudes from the composed faces. However, in a couple of instances (Lailah bringing the seed in the form of a flower and reading from a lamplit Book of Secrets inside the mother's womb), it is problematic to depict fantastical elements in concrete terms. This book invites interesting comparisons to Mordicai Gerstein's The Mountains of Tibet (HarperCollins, 1989).–Martha Topol, Traverse Area District Library, Traverse City, MI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

PreS-Gr. 2. In spare, serene language, Schwartz reshapes a rabbinic legend into the answer to a familiar plea, "Tell me a story about before I was born." The quiet picture book begins: "The angel Lailah watched over you," leading your soul to Earth and teaching you "all the secrets of the world." But at the time of your birth, Lailah "put a finger to your lips, reminding you to keep everything she taught a secret. That is how you got the indentation of your upper lip." Of course, it's easy to imagine little fingers touching upper lips at the close of this gentle story, which shares its title with two other fairly recent picture books. How does this one differ? Where Jennifer Davis' (1998) lift-the-flap book is presented from a pregnant woman's viewpoint, and Nancy White Carlstrom's (2002) celebrates Psalm 139, Schwartz's makes the soul the centerpiece. Swarner's ethereal, mixed-media illustrations illuminate the spirituality of the telling, and the uplifting idea of a guardian angel will comfort many young listeners. An author's note describes the origin of the folktale. Julie Cummins
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author



Howard Schwartz is Professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He has published three books of poetry, and several books of fiction, including The Captive Soul of the Messiah and Adam's Soul. He has also edited a four-volume set of Jewish folktales, which includes Elijah's Violin & Other Jewish Fairy Tales, Miriam's Tambourine: Jewish Folktales from Around the World, Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural and, most recently, Gabriel's Palace: Jewish Mystical Tales. He has also edited three major anthologies: Imperial Messages: One Hundred Modern Parables, Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets (with Anthony Rudolf), and Gates to the New City: A Treasury of Modern Jewish Tales. His recent book, Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for 1999. In addition, Schwartz has also published ten children's books, including The Diamond Tree (with Barbara Rush, which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in 1992), Next Year in Jerusalem: 3000 Years of Jewish Tales (which won the National Jewish Book Award and the Aesop Award of the American Folklore Society, both in 1996), A Coat for the Moon (with Barbara Rush, which won Anne Izard Storyeller's Choice Award for 1998 and the 1999 Honor Title of the Storytelling World Awards, and The Day the Rabbi Disappeared: Jewish Holiday Tales of Magic (which won the National Jewish Book Award and The Aesop Prize of the American Folklore Society for 2000). His major book, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, won the National Jewish Book Award for 2005 in the category of Reference. Schwartz lives in St. Louis with his wife Tsila, a calligrapher, and his three children, Shira, Nathan and Miriam.

Customer Reviews

My children and I really enjoy reading this book together.
Sherry Ellis
This is the kind of book you will want to read to your child for many nights and years to come.
Maroon 1
The illustrations are stunning and are a perfect addition to Schwartz's poetic text.
Natalie Blitt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sherry Ellis VINE VOICE on October 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Before You Were Born is a beautiful retelling of a story from Jewish folk tradition. It is the story of a soul's journey from the Treasury of Souls in highest heaven to its earthly body in its mother's womb. The luminous illustrations are quite lovely and compliment the text nicely.

My children and I really enjoy reading this book together. Not only is it a beautiful story, complete with angels and folklore, but it is a perfect story for initiating conversations about souls and heaven.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Maroon 1 on July 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What a wonderful book for children. The story is simple yet enthralling. The illustrations are amazing. We have a 5-month old son and he was captivated by the brilliant colors while mom and dad were captivated by the story, as well as the illustrations. This is the kind of book you will want to read to your child for many nights and years to come.
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By Darla Deckard on February 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I never tire of reading this book to my grandchildren - nor do they ever tire of hearing it. A wonderful story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
WHAT a beautiful book...the message is outstanding! Don't hestitate to purchase it...your recipient will thank you over and over.
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By W. Peretz on May 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a lovely retelling of an old story about the infinite wisdom we all hold inside ourselves, beautifully illustrated. What a great message for kids to be read at bedtime before they drift off to sleep. Thank you, Howard Schwartz for this and all your other books.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book for kids of every faith. The illustrations are stunning and are a perfect addition to Schwartz's poetic text. I've used this as a baby present for parents across the spectrum of beliefs and have heard wonderful responses to it. I couldn't recommend it more highly.
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