of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, Sept/Oct 2005
Before You Were Born.
Illus. by Kristina Swarner.
Brookfield, CT: Roaring Brook
Press, 2005. 32 pp. $16.95. ISBN: 1-59643-028-1.
A father holds his baby,
telling him about the time before he was born and setting the stage for
an intimate rendition of one of the most endearing of Jewish
legends. The guardian angel, Lailah, watches over the souls who
dwell in the Treasury of Souls, implanting the soul in a seed in its
mother's womb, and while there, shining a light on the Book of Secrets
and teaching the unborn child all of the world's secrets. When it
is time for the child to be born, Lailah leads it out of the womb but
not before pressing her finger just above the child's lips, causing all
that was taught to be forgotten and creating that indentation shared by
all humans as a reminder that those wondrous secrets are there to be
learned again. The legend is told with simplicity, just a few
words to a page, and illustrated with lyrical artwork done with
linoleum printing, watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil.
Matching the simplicity of the text and conveying all of its meaning,
the pictures use soft, spare lines and gentle colors to show images of
feathery wings, fluffy clouds, a moonlit meadow, and the comforting
presence of the angel teaching, protecting, and leading the
child. Demonstrating the fluid integration of words and
illustrations that are the mark of the art form known as the picture
book, Before You Were Born is an enchanting story for the very youngest
child. Highly recommended for ages 2 - 7.
Linda R. Silver, Jewish Education
Center, Cleveland Heights, OH