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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lala Salama, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2011. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"I washed your face and hands
in the water warmed by the fire
and poured water over your feet.
I dressed you in white
and wrapped you in a long colorful kanga."

I have a been an ardent admirer of Patricia MacLachlan's work since our friend Susan brought us a signed copy of Sarah, Plain and Tall  in 1986 when Erin was 10 and the perfect age to read this incredible story that allowed her a window into the life of a strong, prairie, single woman who braved many changes and much uncertainty as she searched for a new life. Since then, I have read many of Patricia MacLachlan's picture books, poetry and novels. Each one seems to find itself a place on my 'keepers' shelf.

Just this year, I was thrilled to see two new books...Before You Came (Harper, 2011) and Your Moon, My Moon (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Now, I have a third, equally lovely, book to add to my 'books for babies' list. They will definitely find their way to the homes of new parents in  coming months.

Patricia MacLachlan has a grandchild living in faraway Tanzania. In each of these three stories, you can feel the love, longing and pride she feels for this grandchild. Lucky we are to share those feelings through the pages of her books!

The gentle rhythm of this evening lullaby tells of the family's day:

"LONG AGO, this morning,
the sun rose
above the hill
above the house,
spilling light over the hills of the Congo
and the lake with the beautiful name,
like a song.".

The baby is safe in Mama's arms as they watch Baba prepare for a day's work on the water. The rest of the day is given to a routine that is familiar, with a kanga-wrapped baby bound to the mother's back. They go for water, work in the fields, watch the wildlife and cook the food that they will take to Baba, when he comes to shore before he goes back to his night's work on the lake waters. He sings a gentle lullaby to his beloved child. Then, as his boat light sparkles over the dark night waters, the baby finds comfort and slumber on Mama's shoulder.

Lala salama is a Swahili phrase that invites a peaceful sleep, sweet dreams and offers an assurance that the child is loved. How beautiful!

The warmth in Elizabeth Zunon's oil paintings comes from the colors chosen, as well as from the tender attention given to mother and child as they go about their day, always together. The cover image is infused with soft moonlight and abiding love.

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