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Saturday, January 1, 2011

seven hungry babies, written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. Simon & Schuster, 2010. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Five hungry babies hop up and down.
"Feed us! Feed us!"
The little ones frown.

"Settle down, sweet hatchlings,"
Mama Bird coos.
"and I'll fly to the school yard
to find you more food."

Poor Mama! All seven eggs hatch at once and she is on the run to provide sustenance at every turn. One is fed, and the next awaits. Her constant motion has no end, until the final one has his supper and all settle to sleep...for much too short a time. Luckily there is an option!

I love the language...the endearing eptithets each time she leaves them. Wouldn't you love to be called a 'noisy warble pie' or a 'sweet hatchling' or even a 'precious cuddle fluff'. Her trajectory is the same each time she goes in search of food for the next hungry mouth:

"Flappa-flap, swoop-swoop, zoom-zoom, yum!"

The description changes as she feels herself tiring, and finally:

"Flappa-flap, swoop-swoop, swoon-swoon, yum!"

Each time she flies the author offers up a new description for her movement...zips, staggers, stumbles. Kids will enjoy the humor while feeling growing concern for the beleaguered mother. The babies, in the meantime, are fretting, sulking, pouting, squirming, shouting and shrieking. They have no conscience for the trouble they are causing their mother as she attempts to meet their demands.

And then there's the hungry birds, then six and so on. As each bird is fed, it falls contentedly to sleep leaving the others to make their needs known. So, there is asleep and six hungry, two asleep and five hungry...all those combinations of numbers adding up to seven.

Eugene Yelchin does a commendable job of bringing the squalling siblings to life. Full of expression when hungry and angelic in sleep, it is clear what they are feeling as they await their first meal. Mama is fed up with their attitude and exhausted from the many flights but she plods on, with her family's welfare in mind. Finally, she says a lot with a look, when seeking help for the second 'go'.

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