Friday, April 13, 2007

Hush Little Baby

by Brian Pinkney. Greenwillow Books, 2006.

My oldest son is 19 so I have been singing lullabies for a number of years. I made up a song based on my son's name that I used to sing him to sleep with, until he had to have a spinal tap done during a meningitis scare and I used that song to try to sooth him during his terror. He hated that song after that terrible night. I had to start singing him something else, and I liked the song Hush Little Baby. I could never remember the words after the diamond ring line, so I just made up some skit scat that rhymed.

Since that worked pretty well I never took the trouble to learn all the regular words to that song. I still sing it to my two younger sons now and they have both learned it that way. It's funny to hear Buddy ask me if he has the words right when he is singing

"Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring,
Dink dinga ding dinga ding dink dink..."

Our library has just received the new Brian Pinkney book Hush Little Baby. Pinkney says in the preface that this song is a traditional southern Appalachian lullaby based on the English tradition of nursery rhymes. He wanted to put the song in an unexpected context so he

"created a narrative of a day in the life of an African American family in the early 1900s, in which Mama goes off for the day and Papa is left to tend to the young'uns. I also drew from my own experience of having two young children, a boy and a girl. I tapped into the way I use playfulness as a means of consoling my kids. I have learned, though, that playfulness goes only so far. Nurturing can be expressed in many ways. There's make-believe, improvisation, whimsy... But even after the diamond ring turns brass and the spinning top will no longer twirl, the best way to comfort any child is through love."

I love the way Pinkney has introduced the unexpected, whimsical elements in the illustrations and lyrics. A father's perspective of using humor to sooth his children is exactly what I think my boys will best love about this book. Don't you love the way men act silly to get a child to forget his troubles? Pinkney includes a firetruck on the page right before Mama comes home. There is nothing else in the world more attractive than a loving black man being daddy. Put that together with a bright red fire truck and you can't beat it for delight!

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