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Saturday, May 11, 2019

First Laugh Welcome, Baby! Written by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood. Illustrated by Jonathan Nelson. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2018. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"You often visit your
grandparents on the Navajo
Nation. From your
cradle board in the shade
of a pinon, you watch while
your nima, your mama,
weaves bluebirds and
thrushes into her tree-of-life rug. Ribbons of buckskin
hold you snug ... " 

Navajo families honor a baby's first laugh with a happy celebration they call the First Laugh Ceremony. The first person to make that baby laugh is to be commended and acts as host for the party. Everyone tries to be the first!

This baby is not altogether cooperative. That does not deter family members from doing their best to bring first a smile, then a laugh. The baby naps, wiggles, squirms, lies with open eyes and with what looks to be a smile. Nope, it is quickly followed by a frown and a hungry wail. It seems no one is going to be first, despite many fine attempts.

"Whoosh! Grandfather, your cheii,
splashes water sparkling with sunshine.
You squeal, legs kicking.
"Laugh, little one!"
But not even a smile."

The baby grows, pays attention, but remains calm and without laughter. No matter what is tried, no laugh erupts from that baby ... until Grandmother 'whispers a corn-pollen prayer'. Finally, the smile grows and grows until all present hear that first laugh. The home erupts with joy. The baby is then happily welcomed to the family, to the clans.

Jonathan Nelson's illustrations are drawn with pencils, and finished with ballpoint pen and Photoshop. They welcome readers into the Navajo world, complementing the text that speaks of a "Pendleton blanket' and he shows other details such a turquoise jewelry and a familiar woven blanket. The artwork shines a light on the culture of the baby's family. Watching the family as they resort to familiar antics to make the baby laugh will have readers smiling with pleasure.

An author's endnote describes cultural rituals from around the world regarding traditional baby ceremonies, and they also include a list of selected sources.

"In Nigeria, Africa, Edos families host a naming ceremony. During the ceremony, the eldest woman in the family asks, "What will you name your child?" The mother always replies with a terrible name. All the women shout "No!" The question and response are repeated six more times. Finally, after the seventh time, the father whispers the baby's actual name to his wife, who announces it to all."

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