cover image The Baby on the Way

The Baby on the Way

Karen English, , illus. by Sean Qualls. . FSG, $16 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-37361-0

First-time illustrator Qualls elegantly applies textured brushstrokes in somber hues of pale green, coral and grayish-blue to bring to life this heartfelt conversation between young Jamal and his grandmother. On an apartment rooftop, where the artist pictures Jamal's grandmother tending a vegetable garden, the boy asks, "Grandma... Were you ever a little girl?" She responds, "Your ol' grandma was even once the baby on the way ." As she tells the story of her birth (presumably as it was told to her), the spread divides into two pictures: on the left, in a rectangular box, Grandma and Jamal converse while she makes them a salad, and on the right, a full-bleed page depicts Grandma's flashbacks of her childhood on a farm. English (Hot Day on Abbott Avenue ) peppers the dialogue with pleasing idioms and colorful details that lend an immediacy to the longago events, as Daddy paced, the dog whimpered and Grandma's nine older siblings were sent from the house. Ten days after her birth came the "the takin' up ceremonies —somethin' probably passed down from slavery times," says Grandma. "Mama... carried me around the house seven times, singin' and prayin' all the while." When Grandma finishes her tale, Jamal wonders aloud if someone will ever ask him if he was a baby and Grandma says: "I know all about it. Shall I tell it to you?" A poignant reminder that while life experiences vary greatly over generations, the tradition of keeping memories alive through storytelling endures. Ages 3-6. (Oct.)