Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, Sept/Oct 2005
Schwartz, Howard. 
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