Before You Were Born
Roaring Brook/Brodie
Howard Schwartz
Illustrated by Kristina Swarner

May 15, 2005 issue of Booklist

PreS–Gr. 2. In spare, serene language, Schwartz reshapes a rabbinic legend into the answer to a familiar plea, “Tell me a story about before I was born.” A quiet word pictures begins: “The angel Lailah watched over you,” leading your soul to Earth and teaching you “all the secrets of the world.” But at the time of your birth, Lailah “put a finger to your lips, reminding you to keep everything she taught a secret. That is how you got the indentation of your upper lip.” Of course, it’s easy to imagine little fingers touching upper lips at the close of this gentle story, which shares its title with two other fairly recent picture books. How does this one differ? Where Jennifer Davis’ (1998) lift-the-flap book is presented from a pregnant woman’s viewpoint, and Nancy White Carlstrom’s (2002) celebrates Psalm 139, Schwartz’s makes the soul the centerpiece. Swarner’s ethereal, mixed-media illustrations illuminate the spirituality of the telling, and the uplifting idea of a guardian angel will comfort many young listeners. An author’s note describes the origin of the folktale. —Julie Cummins