cover image Hush, Little Baby: A Folk Song with Pictures

Hush, Little Baby: A Folk Song with Pictures

Marla Frazee, Frazee. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201429-2

Frazee's (The Seven Silly Eaters) dark but nimble illustrations flesh out more of a story line for the old folk song, with mixed results. A scowling older sister starts the baby crying by abruptly shoving its cradle--a clever, tangy interpretation--and the family spends the rest of the book trying to placate the infant. Cast as Appalachians of yore, the characters include a bonneted mother, a burly father, the barefoot, gap-toothed sister and a bushy-bearded peddler. The words of the song are blazoned across the bottom of the spreads in large type, and the pictures, heavily shaded with black pencil and brightened somewhat with colored inks, often appear as multi-panel sequences. Vignettes on one spread, for example, show the girl whispering to the father, then leading him to the peddler's wagon, then buying a mockingbird, then carrying it home. A few scenes of the father and daughter are beautifully expressive: her poses, leaning against him or happily perched on his shoulders, are perfectly natural, as is a scene in which the parents exchange woeful glances over the baby's head. But a few too many exaggerated gestures and bugged eyes send the illustrations from the animated toward the cartoonish, and while the style is very deliberate, the gloomy tones and the hyped-up, caricatured figures sit uneasily together. All ages. (Sept.)