WHEN YOU WERE BORN

Dianna Hutts Aston, Author, E. B. Lewis, Illustrator , illus. by E.B. Lewis. Candlewick $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-1438-6

With breathtaking paintings and a lilting, poetic text, Aston and Lewis present a book that sparkles with the beauty and grace of the subject it celebrates—a newborn child. Each stanza repeats the phrase, "When you were born," as the child's mother offers first her own impressions ("you came quietly,/ and with eyes deep as an ocean/ you looked at me") and then describes the reactions of others. Lewis's (Talkin' About Bessie ) exquisite illustrations evoke a sense of movement and feeling, as if each onlooker were enveloping the baby in a blanket of love. Like the artists to whom (according to the book jacket) he wishes to pay homage, Lewis's figures echo the colors and shapes of Chagall, Matisse, Redon and Giotto without being derivative. The sophistication of the art may appeal more to parents, but younger children will respond to other elements: bright flowers burst upon the page, houses and trees hang in space, and the arms of rounded figures edged in medieval gold reach to the sky. Aston gradually widens the child's circle from family to community to the world. She grounds complex sentiments in particulars: the grandmother sits "among the pink snapdragons/ in the garden" singing "the lullaby she had sung to me," and the world "hum[s]/ its everyday tune/ of footsteps and voices,/ engines and bells,/ but here/ in our home,/ our souls/ sang with joy." The book incorporates several religious references ("I knew/ you were a gift/ from God," etc.), but these phrases do not draw attention to themselves. A reassuring and heart-warming reminder that each newborn is a rare gift to be treasured. Ages 3-up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/23/2004
Release date: 08/01/2004
Genre: Children's
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