The Baby on the Way

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By the Coretta Scott King Honor author

In an urban rooftop garden, a young African American boy named Jamal initiates an intriguing conversation with his grandmother when he asks her if she was ever a baby. Turns out Grandma was even once ?the baby on the way,? and she proceeds to tell the story of her birth, the tenth child in a poor farming family. As she discusses the events and traditions that accompanied her welcome to the world, from the...

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Overview

By the Coretta Scott King Honor author

In an urban rooftop garden, a young African American boy named Jamal initiates an intriguing conversation with his grandmother when he asks her if she was ever a baby. Turns out Grandma was even once ?the baby on the way,? and she proceeds to tell the story of her birth, the tenth child in a poor farming family. As she discusses the events and traditions that accompanied her welcome to the world, from the fetching of the midwife to a folkways ritual of drinking water from a thimble, vivid, expressionistic paintings from a talented new illustrator evoke the past.

A gentle and satisfying book that will inspire young readers to gather other stories about being the baby on the way.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First-time illustrator Qualls elegantly applies textured brushstrokes in somber hues of pale green, coral and grayish-blue to bring to life this heartfelt conversation between young Jamal and his grandmother. On an apartment rooftop, where the artist pictures Jamal's grandmother tending a vegetable garden, the boy asks, "Grandma... Were you ever a little girl?" She responds, "Your ol' grandma was even once the baby on the way." As she tells the story of her birth (presumably as it was told to her), the spread divides into two pictures: on the left, in a rectangular box, Grandma and Jamal converse while she makes them a salad, and on the right, a full-bleed page depicts Grandma's flashbacks of her childhood on a farm. English (Hot Day on Abbott Avenue) peppers the dialogue with pleasing idioms and colorful details that lend an immediacy to the longago events, as Daddy paced, the dog whimpered and Grandma's nine older siblings were sent from the house. Ten days after her birth came the "the takin' up ceremonies-somethin' probably passed down from slavery times," says Grandma. "Mama... carried me around the house seven times, singin' and prayin' all the while." When Grandma finishes her tale, Jamal wonders aloud if someone will ever ask him if he was a baby and Grandma says: "I know all about it. Shall I tell it to you?" A poignant reminder that while life experiences vary greatly over generations, the tradition of keeping memories alive through storytelling endures. Ages 3-6. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Jamal, a young African-American boy, wants to know if his grandmother was ever a baby. Lovingly, she tells him the story of how she was "once the baby on the way" and how she came to be born. Interesting customs of the time, known as "takin up ceremonies" are described. These include walking the new baby around the house seven times, and the new mother drinking water from a thimble. With humor grandma describes being spoiled and given everything she wanted because her mama "was tired by the tenth child." At the end of the tale, Jamal happily settles down to learn how he too was "once the baby on the way."The stylized illustrations realistically portray the emotions and actions of the characters and evoke a strong sense of place. Children, always curious about when they were born, are sure to enjoy this gentle story. 2005, Farrar Straus Girox, Ages 4 to 7.
—Sylvia Firth
School Library Journal
Gr 1-3-A boy asks his grandmother if she was ever a baby. Grandma answers yes, and that once she was even "the baby on the way." The woman goes on to narrate the story of the day she was born and beyond. One day, Big Sis runs to the field to tell her father that the baby is coming. From there she runs to get Aunt Nannie and "her birthin' bag full of secret things." Quall's painterly, mixed-media illustrations capture the anxious looks of the children who know that something is up, but not what. The solitary silhouette of the father pacing back and forth on the porch conveys the sense of worry, waiting, and anticipation. English incorporates old African-American practices such as the "takin' up ceremonies-somethin' probably passed down from slavery times," which culminates in the naming of the baby, and the smoking of mama's clothes to help her regain her strength. When Grandma finishes her story, Jamal asks if someday, somebody will ask him if he had ever been a baby. Grandma assures him that someone probably will, and that he will then be able to tell them his story. This is a gentle, sentimental book that addresses an age-old question and the curiosity that children have about their grandparents.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A child's question to his grandma opens a window to another time and place in this intimate, intergenerational conversation. Grandma answers young Jamal's question about whether she was ever a little girl by going back even further than that, first to when she was the tenth "baby on the way" for a rural family, then, after her birth, describing how she was carried around the house in "takin' up ceremonies" ("somethin' probably passed down from slavery times. People don't do that no more"), and as the "lap baby," how she displaced the next eldest sib to the status of "knee baby." Using a palette of pale, thickly brushed blues and greens to give his flat-perspective scenes a subdued tone, Qualls alternates between Grandma's spacious-looking urban kitchen and the more crowded country setting, where family and neighbors gather round to provide help following the birth; his figures, young and old, bear quiet, reflective expressions in keeping with the general tone. In the end, suggesting that Jamal may one day himself be asked the same question, Grandma offers to tell him about when he was the baby on the way-and what young listeners won't want to hear their own versions of that story? (Picture book. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374373610
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/6/2005
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 3 - 6 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.38 (w) x 10.36 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen English is the author of many children?s books, including Speak to Me (And I Will Listen between the Lines), which was a School Library Journal Best Book of 2004. She lives in Richmond, California.

This is Sean Qualls?s first book. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2008

    Loved it!

    You know I loved this one...knowing the history of the story. Thanks for keeping it real and putting it out there for all of us to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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