{book} birth stories

on

30 days of pbDay Twenty-Four: The Baby on the Way 

by Karen English

Illus. Sean Qualls 

Farrar Straus Giroux 2005

the baby on the way1The Baby on the Way was not what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be about a boy who is feeling anxiety about a new baby sibling on the way. And maybe Jamal is and maybe there is a younger sibling on the way, but the book takes a decidedly other track. It is a story a grandmother tells about when she was born in a decidedly different time.

With his grandmother harvesting salad-makings from the rooftop gardens, Jamal suddenly wonders if his grandma was a little girl, or smaller yet, an actual baby. He looks and looks at her, trying to reconcile the differences. As they return to kitchen and have their salads, she tells him about when she was born, the tenth child. The story crosscuts time between kitchen scene and historical past and often places them beside one another with stunning full-page portraits.

the baby on the way021Jamal (and Reader) learn how it was, the traditions, the community. Grandma’s voice is unlike the narrator’s in a pleasing way, but both have a sweet and entertaining way about them.

Grandma’s story has Jamal wondering if he will have a story of his own someday. Grandma tells him he can and that she has his story to give him as well as her own, reminding us that her own story must have been told her. The story inspires further storytelling in Jamal and his grandmother and for the reader and their family.

the baby on the way041

Little wonder at the confidence in both writer and artist to allot text-only pages beside full-length artwork, the voices and illustrations have an understated appeal. This is my first picture book illustrated by Sean Qualls, and I can tell you there will be many more.

The Baby on the Way makes the child a part of something larger. We come to understand that the boy’s place in the story and family will be both unique and shared; like the grandmother’s. All birth stories can hold importance, not just that of the latest arrival, and English acknowledges that these kinds of stories are situated in community. English gives a ‘baby on the way’ story depth and scope, context and legacy, inspiring the reader to lift their eyes from introspection and desire to participate in not just their own specialness, but that of their family’s as well.

Now, if only all children were so blessed to have the storyteller from which The Baby on the Way benefits–and to commission Qualls to do their family portraits.

————————

Multi-cultural author Karen English has been writing children’s books since 1992. […]Many of English’s books focus on multi-racial friendships, feuding friends, resolving differences, and the internal struggles of young females facing a range of controversial issues from discrimination to questioning their own religious beliefs.” (blog for your book bio) English is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winning author and a retired elementary school teacher. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

books include: Francie (Farrar Straus Giroux 2002), Nadia’s Hands w/ Jonathan Weiner (Boyds Mills 1999), Nikki and Deja series.

Sean Qualls is an award winning, Brooklyn-based, children’s book illustrator, artist and author. He has illustrated a number of celebrated books for children, including Giant Steps to Change The World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and her son Slade and Before John Was a Jazz Giant, for which he received a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor. […] Qualls has created illustrations for magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. His work has been shown in galleries in New York and across the country. Sean draws inspiration from an array of influences such as movies, television, childhood memories, aging and decaying surfaces, architecture, old buildings, nature, folk art, fairy tales, Americana, black memorabilia, outsider art, cave paintings, collectibles, African art, golden books, vintage advertisement graphics, psychology, mythology, science fiction, music, and literature. He lives in lives in Brooklyn (where you can find him DJing on occasion) with his wife, illustrator/author Selina Alko and their two children Ginger and Isaiah.

do check out “Seven Questions over Breakfast with Sean Qualls” via Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast 

{images belong to Sean Qualls, text to Karen English}

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