Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Ode to a baby

Lullaby - Etymology From Middle English lullen, to lull + bye. First recorded circa 1560, says an online resource.

Some lullabies, I think, are intentionally devoid of logic. Some are intelligently crafted to educate. While some are soaked in love, some others are plain funny. But interestingly most lullabies carry meaningful particulars of the land and its culture.

The books below are well enjoyed by my toddler and me, so much so that when read at times other than bedtime, he typically wants to at least lie down for a bit after our session.

Hush Little Baby

Title: Hush Little Baby
Author & Illustrations: Sylvia Long
Published by: Chronicle Books

Disturbed by the materialistic attitude of the lyrics of the traditional American lullaby “Hush little baby” (,_Little_Baby), award-winning artist Sylvia Long has reworked it for a more nature-centric version. This one oozes warmth and lulls the listener and singer, in the same stillness of the night that Mama bunny and her baby in the book share.

The adorable details in the ink-and-watercolor drawings of Long, still urges the eye to wander in search of them. Like carrot prints on the curtains, bunny doodles on the lampshade and a quilt with a patchwork of playful things. Mama bunny points out to some of nature’s wonders around her porch and bedroom ( a humming bird, a lightning bug, a shooting star, a cricket and finally the moon), before kissing goodnight to her baby.

I sometimes tend to think that this version might still leave some of us promising our child the impossible, but I resort to the fact that nothing can be more calming than nature’s precious little things. Or as Sylvia Long claims in her note to readers at the end of the book It seems much healthier to encourage children to find comfort in the natural things around them…

A Norse Lullaby

Title: A Norse Lullaby
Author: M.L.Van Vorst; Illustrator: Margot Tomes
Published by: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

A Norse Lullaby. That was reason enough for me to bring this home from the library. The book gave me the story later. The lullaby first appeared in January 1897 in a children’s magazine. When illustrator Margot Tomes discovered it, she wanted to paint the wintry Scandinavian landscape herself to go with the lullaby.
A family awaits the arrival of the father. The father is rushing on a sled to the “warmth” that is waiting for him at home. The children are playing. A baby is trying to retire for the night. Hush Hush in your little nest, And mother’s voice is singing.

The artwork is amazing. The greys and whites of a snowed in landscape juxtaposed with the reds, browns and greens gives us that perfect feel of the far North and its culture. Details of a traditional household are aplenty. The wood in a barrel near the huge fireplace, the rocking reindeer toy, the hurricane lamps, the clothes, the small wooden crib all transport us to the home that stands amidst mounds of snow, with the wind whistling on a wintry evening.

Hush, A Thai Lullaby

Title: Hush – A Thai Lullaby
Author: Minfong Ho ; Illustrator: Holly Meade
Published by: Orchard Books

This book stole my heart. And my little boy’s. Sometimes even our sleep.

The setting is a very remote Thai village. With native flora and fauna generously encompassing the small hut, a mother goes great lengths to assure her child of the quietness she needs for a peaceful sleep.

A blue cloth hammock carries a baby. Traditional Thai basketry, prints, fabrics and architecture take us to a Thai household. The mother begins her rounds by hushing a mosquito. She moves on to the cat, the mouse by the rice barn, the leaping frog, the pig, duck, monkey, even an old water buffalo and even…even...the great big elephant! Not surprising considering what the illustrations portray. Cut paper and ink illustrations of lush forestry in warm earth tones and a bold orange-red outline makes the images come alive.

Interestingly, we notice the baby getting out of the hammock and wandering in the background, just as her mother turns her back to her. My own baby took upon himself the task of finding his counterpart’s tiny depiction in every page. It was also immensely refreshing to hear and make rather new animal sounds, “uut-uut” for the pigs , “ghap-ghap” for the ducks and “jiak-jiak” for the monkeys!

As all living creatures wind down, Mother is also falling asleep. However the closing spread shows the baby wide awake on the blue hammock! As for us, the onomatopoetic verses in question and answer format are sedating enough to go down.
While some sing it by rote, some others make it a bonding experience. But lullabies, from Scandinavia or Asia or from America, are all delightfully hypnotic. A mother’s care for her child’s sleep transcends cultures.

Pictures Courtesy: Author and Bookstore websites.


artnavy said...

The books sound beautiful and the
review is lovely as well...

The Karadi rhyme- Om shanti om - is a staple at home and seems to work well

sandhya said...

Oh, what a lovely post. The opening lines themselves caught my attention, as my 9 yr old too wants to cuddle up sometimes if she hears anywhere the song I would croon to her as she went to sleep when little. As she still wants to be sung to sometimes when she is feeling a bit under the weather.

Vibha said...

lovely post Meera. Full of love and warmth.

Choxbox said...

What a lovely compilation M!

Interestingly in India (and elsewhere too?), prayers are often lullabies also right?

Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan said...

This has to be the sweetest review ever! The books are lovely, and so is the idea behind compiling them.

My own children used to love the Ladybird book of Bedtime Rhymes (among others). I used to wonder why it included such hilarious poems as 'When Daddy Fell into the Pond', unless the idea was for the kids to laugh themselves senseless. One beautiful (and thankfully soporific) number was 'Sampan' by Tao Lang Pee. This s how it went (getting slower and lower towards the end for maximum effect):

Waves lap, lap
Fish fins clap, clap
Brown sails flap, flap
Chopsticks tap, tap.

Up and down the long green river, ohe ohe lanterns quiver

Waves lap, lap
Fish fins clap, clap
Brown sails flap, flap
Chopsticks tap, tap.

PS Sorry about this voluminous comment,I got carried away!

Anusha said...

love the choice of books, M!
Could especially identify with the mom who falls asleep at her own lullaby, leaving a wide awake baby :)
Looking for that book right away, and I see it is a caldecott one too.

@Harini: A beautiful, soothing song that was...

utbtkids said...

Chox, wonderful point. I grew up with lot of prayers as lullabies.

Meera, Hush was such a hit at home when my second one was growing up. All of us would go HUSH while reading the book. Much like the child in the book, she was the kind of child who would put me to sleep and wander away :) It is a Caldecott honor book right? I liked the collage technique of art work in teh book.

Meera Sriram said...

@Art: Thanks. We love that song too, nice to know that it is your lullaby.
@Sandhya: Lovely! That is exactly why there is no age grp mentioned. I still sometimes ask my grandma to sing:)
Thank you Vibha and Chox, and yes prayers are often sung, for the calming effect. The same grandmom always did that when I was a kid.
@ That is so sweet and very interestingly, how it carries bits of the culture neatly woven into it...
Thanks KM and Utbt.
@Utbt, glad to know you've enjoyed the book..isn't it wonderful?!

ranjani.sathish said...

What beautiful picks Meera..but I am already gravitating towards HUSH..seems like such a lovely book :-).

Lullaby books will be a big hit with my kids, as they cannot go to sleep any day without me singing to them, including the 8 year old big boy.(err...they don't think much of their father's singing !!)

I sing "long long ago learned" few carnatic songs and when Sooraj was a year old, I came across Bombay Jayshree's "Vatsalyam CD". It is a fantastic collection of lullbaies from various regions of India. I learned a few songs from these and all these are helpng me to lull the kids to sleep these days :-)

Meera Sriram said...

Oh, the vatsalyam CD.. a good friend gifted it to me when I delivered Rasika, and we've enjoyed it, mostly in the car! Glad that you know about it and so thoughtful to bring it up here! For the others, its a collection of lullabies in the many regional languages of India sung by the popular Bombay Jayashree.

Thanks Ranjani. Yes, Hush is a lovely book indeed, try it.

Praba Ram said...

Both the topic and reviews, full of warmth and coziness! A lovely collection. I will bring home the Thai one first, I think.

Our favorite lullaby is Raffi's Goodnight Irene

([ From: ])

Foxes sleep in the forest
Lions sleep in their dens
Goats sleep on the mountainside
and piggies sleep in pens

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dream

Whales sleep in the ocean
Zebras sleep on land

Hippos sleep by the riverside
and camels sleep on sand


Coyote sleeps in the canyon
And birdie sleeps in a tree
And when it's time for me to rest
My bed's the place for me.


I love the realistic connection it gives the child with nature and animals around.

And Vatsalyam is another favorite as well. We have our own made-up one...the quintessential "jo-jo-re, jo-jo-re"...(the repetitive words "jo-jo-re" sung to the soothing tune of thaa-le-lo in the same CD, the poor kids have had put up with as babies, toddlers, preschoolers...will go on till college probably,may be even grandkids!) :)

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