cover image When Mama Comes Home Tonight

When Mama Comes Home Tonight

Eileen Spinelli. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81065-7

Mother returns from her job to spend an evening of play and bath time with a sleepy, grateful toddler in this comforting picture book. Spinelli's (Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch) brief, rhythmic sentences immediately establish the mood: ""When Mama comes home from work, dear child,/ when Mama comes home tonight,/ she'll cover you with kisses,/ she'll hug you sweet and tight."" Inspired by the work of Mary Cassatt, Dyer (Time for Bed) composes scenes of quiet domestic harmony, centering on a plump, porcelain-skinned mother in a long flowered dress and her copper-tressed son or daughter in overalls. Text and art depict Mama as an embracing, nurturing and very feminine presence. She plays pat-a-cake with Baby, counts the cars on the small-town street, mends Baby's pajamas and ""her own pink satin slip,"" and fixes herself a cup of tea. The setting is carefully timeless: the clapboard house and playthings old-fashioned, the clothing and furniture as appropriate a few generations ago as today. Spot illustrations lovingly highlight various objects--bowl of soup and cup of applesauce, Baby's sandals, rubber duck, brush, teddy bear--for young readers to recognize and practice naming (in one inventive touch, for ""lullabies,"" musical notes play ""Rock-a-Bye Baby"" on a star-filled staff set against the sky). The book works marvelously as a soporific, and will reassure anxiously waiting children as well as the parents who dash home to put them to bed. Ages 6 mos.-5 yrs. (Sept.)