If you’re talkin’ nursery rhymes/Mother Goose rhymes and their inherent eccentricities (the rhymes themselves and their origins), I think many people would agree that one of the oddest of all is “Rock-a-bye Baby,” what with the falling baby from the treetops. It’s macabre, to say the least.
One of my favorite picture book authors is Linda Ashman. She consistently brings the goods. Her brand-new book (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House), illustrated by Italian artist Simona Mulazzani, is an early-2016 treat. (It’s coming to shelves this month.) It’s called Rock-a-Bye Romp, and it almost reads as Ashman’s response to this bizarre traditional rhyme, yet it’s not as if she’s trying to fix the rhyme. It’s not as if she’s saying anything is wrong with it. In fact, she does her part to extend the wonderful madness of the tale–yet brings it all full-circle with lots of warmth.
It opens with a baby in a treetop, yes. But Ashman asks: “How did you ever get so high up?” She doesn’t really answer this impossible question; instead, a Mama Crow nudges the baby out of a nest he or she has fallen into, and the baby lands on a pig, eventually floating in a boat on a stream and flying through the air (as you can see above). Even more adventures take place in between.
In the end, the baby lands into Mother’s arms. “Sweet little Baby, rocking with me,” she says. (In fact, we learn, she’s the narrator telling the tale.)
“Who’d put a cradle high in a tree?
Babies in trees are fine in a song . . .
But you, little one, are where you belong.”
Ashman writes in rhyme that rolls right off the tongue, and Mulazzani’s illustrations bring readers a fanciful world—trees with faces, a huge, anthropomorphized moon just outside Baby’s window—with cool greens, purples, and blues. These are mixed media illustrations, which include acrylics, colored pencils, and collage. Beautiful.
And check out these sunny endpapers, which as you can see from the spread above, are just like Baby’s blanket. The book is filled with these types of charming details.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, it’s already received good professional reviews all-around. “Let’s face it: as nursery rhymes go,” notes the Publishers Weekly starred review, “‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ is ominous at best.” But Ashman’s book, the reviewer goes on to say, is a “gently funny and eminently reassuring expansion of the original rhyme.”
It’s a keeper, this one.
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ROCK-A-BYE ROMP. Copyright © 2016 by Linda Ashman. Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Simona Mulazzani. Spreads used by permission of the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, New York.
Julie Davidson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at her acclaimed blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast,, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books. The above blog was posted at 7-Imp on January 5, 2016.