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Hush, Little Baby Hardcover – December 27, 2005
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From School Library Journal
PreS–This version of a favorite lullaby features a spinning top (in place of a billy goat); a dog named Pearl (rather than a cart and bull); and a fire truck returning the baby girl to the house where Mamas gonna sing you a lullaby. Pinkneys colored-ink paintings show an early 1900s African-American father and his young guitar-playing son entertaining baby sister, who is sad that mama has gone off for the day. Each full-page painting or spread is artistically placed against a colored background, with a phrase or two of supersize text curved around it. The pleasing, exaggerated curves of the prancing horse; the leaping, seemingly weightless father and children; and the energy of the lurching fire engine make the pictures come alive. A portrait of the whole happy family provides a satisfying conclusion. Music and four-verse text are appended. Exuberant fun.–Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
PreS. Pinkney sets his version of the traditional Appalachian folksong in an African American household of the early 1900s, after "Mama goes off for the day and Papa is left to tend to the young'uns." Ink-on-clayboard scenes show a distraught toddler girl comforted by a playful father and older brother, who sing, dance, and, of course, offer a series of whimsical gifts. Although Pinkney imagines a less elaborate story arc than the one in Marla Frazee's 1999 version, he does play a bit with the traditional lyrics (at one point Papa brings Baby a fire truck), and imbues them with a dancing energy that seems to spin right off of a 1920s Harlem dance floor--spaghetti-limbed figures sketch energetic curves against bright, unadorned backdrops, chased by arcs of easy-to-read type. Although Mama's arrival back home, bearing the only intangible gift (and seemingly the most successful one), seems to support oddly old-fashioned views of maternal and paternal forms of nurturing, this remains a welcome multicultural interpretation of a classic children's song. An appended musical arrangement gives the tune a jazzy beat to match the wheeling, undulating figures in the story. Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The book opens with just the view of a front porch and a path leading down past a white fence. A boy on the porch tunes his guitar, and pretty soon it's a good thing he did. Mama is off for the day, dressed up in a yellow dress with matching hat and purse. Everyone waves goodbye, but the young daughter sitting in Papa's arms is obviously NOT happy with the situation. As it stands, Papa starts giving her little things like mockingbirds or rings or looking glasses. Then there's a dog named Pearl, a somewhat malevolent horse and cart, and last but not least an incredibly bright red fire truck. After the truck, Mama is home once more and the family sits on the porch (possibly to take a breather) as the returning mother picks up the song once more.
Here is what I like about Brian Pinkney; nothing is done on a lark. You might notice that the characters in this picture book are wearing fashions circa the early 20th century. His reasoning behind this setting was to place the song in "an unexpected context", of sorts. Unexpected but not unwelcome. The song actually works magnificently here. As for the words of the lullaby itself, I'm not entirely certain where Mr. Pinkney got them. He's kind enough to include sheet music for the song at the end of the story, replicating it as well on the book's back cover. And the music is credited as being arranged by one "David Wolff" but I don't know if Mr. Wolff was the one who created the fire truck line. It doesn't really matter, of course, since the song works perfectly within the context of a picture book.
And of course, the art is (as ever) remarkable. Having already established himself as the master of the scratchboard (I have a hard time coming up with ANYONE who could challenge his throne in that respect) this book is merely described on the publication page with, "Colored inks on clay board were used to prepare the full-color art." Which, to be frank, doesn't tell you anything at all. Over the years Mr. Pinkney's art has relaxed into a fluid, perpetually moving style. Left with a cranky toddler, Papa in this book is forever leaping, dancing, prancing, and swinging about in an effort to make his little daughter happy. His kids move about just as much, but you really have to credit the artist with finding new ways of presenting just three characters against an ever-changing background. The song lends itself to the ultimate fire-engine-related climax as well. I was doubly pleased to find that the mockingbird introduced in the very first line fo the song, crops up time and time again throughout the entire story. Both bird and "dog named Pearl" stay within the narrative and appear with the happy reunited family at the story's close.
There was a version of this song done with illustrations by Marla Frazee that gave a twinge of Appalachian desperation to the otherwise calming lullaby. For a bit of fun you might want to compare and contrast this book with Frazee's. Perhaps Mr. Pinkney's latest take on this classic song won't erase all the past books based on this tune you've read in your life, but it'll certainly remain one of the most memorable. Beautiful to look at, easy to sing, and a book that seems tailor made for storytimes everywhere, "Hush, Little Baby" is just a lovely little number that many a child will plead to hear again and again. My highest praise? This is now my favorite Brian Pinkney book. Top notch work all around.