Some of our favorite stories are quiet ones. George and I like the bouncy, funny books with opportunities for different voices and exaggerated faces, but on sleepy mornings and after cranky afternoons, a nice, calm story can re-set the tone or ease us into the day.
We got On Mother's Lap by Ann Herbert Scott (illustrated by Glo Coalson) and Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse (illustrated by Barbara Lavallee) for a grand total of twenty five cents. One was a (free) library cast-off and one was a score from a particularly generous neighbor's yard sale: some of my favorite places to get books. Having never heard of either author or either illustrator and not really taking the time to pre-screen, I took these home on a lark and am so glad I did. Both are sweet tales of Inuit or Eskimo mothers and their babes, with similar themes: that mama's love is constant and growing.
It seems that Glo Coalson has re-illustrated On Mother's Lap in the years since our edition was published (1972) which is a real shame. Her original watercolors are serene and artistic, depicting a sweet, round mama with an abundant, inviting lap. She's a welcome change to the standard cartoon mom-with-a-bob that runs rampant in George's other board books. The family's home is very modest -- beds with exposed springs, a wood stove with laundry drying overhead -- but the comfort that Coalson manages to convey with such simple pictures and a limited palette is pretty amazing. Also noteworthy is the fact that neither poverty nor ethnicity is mentioned, as I would expect in a more modern story. This kind of exposure, to me, is more helpful in teaching multiculturalism than all the heritage days or exoticizing documentaries in the world. Scott's words are few but plenty illustrative when coupled with the pictures, and tell of a little boy who's hesitant to share his mama with a new baby. SPOILER ALERT: There's room for everyone, plus a reindeer blanky, on Mama's lap. Cute, right?
In Mama, Do You Love Me? a kid wants to know just how bratty she has to be before wearing out her welcome with ol' mom. This book is full of new vocabulary -- ptarmigan, umiak, mukluk -- a rarity for anything aimed at preschoolers, and that alone excited me. In reading Amazon reviews, several cited the language and lack of a glossary as a drawback (they had to use the dictionary: THE HORROR), but they are evidently trying to trick their children into believing that parents are omniscient. I, on the other hand, am not above a quick vocab lesson in my child's presence.
Joosse's moral here is simple: you, little one, might be mean or clumsy or make a bad decision, but mama will always love you. If this doesn't ring true to you, as a parent, well... don't get the book (also: might I suggest sending your son or daughter to live with a nicer relative?), but it's definitely appropriate for my family. There's lots to look at in these pages: puffins, a walrus, a musk ox and another pretty, plump mama. The pictures are timeless and keep George's attention even now.
The next time you're experiencing a crappy, I-dropped-all-my-ptarmigan-eggs kinda day, think of us and check one of these babies out.
Ed: weird, Hobo Mama and I both mention On Mother's Lap in the same week. Ann Herbert Scott, are you feeling the blog love?