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Before You Were Born
     

Before You Were Born

5.0 3
by Howard Schwartz, Kristina Swarner (Illustrator)
 

Once, long ago, the angel Lailah, who knows all the mysteries of heaven, shared her secrets with you. The moment you were born, you forgot everything. But don't worry, in this book, you will lean about all those wonderful secrets again. And you will even know how you got that indentation above your lip! Noted folklorist Howard Schwartz elegantly shapes this legend.

Overview

Once, long ago, the angel Lailah, who knows all the mysteries of heaven, shared her secrets with you. The moment you were born, you forgot everything. But don't worry, in this book, you will lean about all those wonderful secrets again. And you will even know how you got that indentation above your lip! Noted folklorist Howard Schwartz elegantly shapes this legend. Matched with luminous art, Before You Were Born is the perfect book for bedtime - and all the time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
Why do humans have an indentation above their upper lip? Schwartz (The Diamond Tree) offers a lyrical explanation based on a midrash (a "Rabbinic legend," in Schwartz's words) published in Constantinople in 1522. An opening image shows a father holding a child, who asks for a favorite story "about before I was born." The parent explains that, at the appointed time, the angel Lailah, pictured with leaf-shaped wings, escorts babies from "the Treasury of Souls" in heaven to their new home in their mothers' wombs. As the babies grow, Lailah reads from the Book of Secrets, and teaches her charges "all the secrets in the world"-the languages of animals, the events of the past and future, and "most of all, she told... many good stories." At birth, Lailah puts her finger to the babies' lips, and all this knowledge becomes the soul's secret. "But don't worry," says the father reassuringly, "you have the rest of your life to learn all those wondrous secrets again." Swarner's (the Yiddish Wisdom series) gauzy textures and curvilinear stylings bring to mind a combination of Marc Chagall and Jean Charlot. But while many of the mixed-media pictures exude a poignant prettiness, they seem more fairytale-like than spiritual and lack a driving narrative power. Yet the mysticism takes on a coziness in the artwork, making this is a sweet exegesis of an intriguing phenomenon. Ages 4-8. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This is one of the most beautifully written folktales I have ever read. It is the story a father tells his daughter when she asks him to tell her about the time before birth. The legend combines the scientific explanation with the religious view of how the soul gets inside each of us, and journeys through life. As the Jewish legend goes, there is an angel named Lailah and she is the keeper of souls in Heaven. It is she who guides the soul to earth where the soul is turned into a seed and is planted inside the mother. While growing, Lailah tells the soul the secrets of the world, the languages of the animals, the language of the wind, and even reveals the past and future. When it was time to be born, Lailah leads the precious baby into the world. The legend goes on to explain that the indentation on the upper lip was put there by Lailah's fingers to remind us of all the things we were taught before birth. The story ends with the words, "But don't worry, you have the rest of your life to learn all those wondrous secrets again." The illustrations are simple and beautiful. Each page gives the reader a sense of peace and comfort. This story is so well done, that you want to believe the folktale is true. 2005, Roaring Brook Press, Ages 4 to 8.
—Kathie M. Josephs
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 1-3-A child asks for a story about "before I was born." What follows is a tale from Jewish legend, based on stories of Lailah, the guardian of the human soul. It is this angel, readers learn, who watches over the Treasury of Souls in heaven. Once a soul is chosen, she brings it down to earth and plants it as a seed in the mother's womb. There she proceeds to tell the soul the secrets of the world: the languages of the animals and of the wind plus the history of that soul, it's past and future. When the time comes to lead the child into the world, she touches the baby's upper lip, creating an indention, as a reminder to keep this knowledge a secret. "But don't worry," the father tells his now sleeping child, "you have the rest of your life to learn all those wondrous secrets again." As a folktale, this story is lovely and provocative. It combines a compelling explanation of a universal physical trait with a religious view of the soul's journey through life. The textured, mixed-media art has a nice mixture of unpolished innocence as seen in the landscapes and calm serenity that exudes from the composed faces. However, in a couple of instances (Lailah bringing the seed in the form of a flower and reading from a lamplit Book of Secrets inside the mother's womb), it is problematic to depict fantastical elements in concrete terms. This book invites interesting comparisons to Mordicai Gerstein's The Mountains of Tibet (HarperCollins, 1989).-Martha Topol, Traverse Area District Library, Traverse City, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this retold midrash, a father explains to his son how the angel Lailah brought him from the Treasury of Souls, placed him in a seed, taught him many secrets, tales and languages while he grew in the womb, then at the moment of his birth touched his lip, which not only caused him to forget all that had gone before, but left that indentation in the skin that everyone has. Casting human figures with rounded forms, delicately flushed cheeks and downcast eyes, Swarner illustrates the journey in quietly lyrical paintings that seem to glow beneath layers of color; the child, dressed in red, nestles within the angel's arms and feathered wings, looking out onto a wide world rich in stars, flowers and butterflies. Schwartz closes with discussions of the tale's sources, and of the idea of guardian angels in general; the emotional intensity of his offering will linger with children of any cultural tradition. (Picture book/folktale. 6-9)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596430280
Publisher:
Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
04/27/2005
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
9.74(w) x 10.52(h) x 0.41(d)
Age Range:
3 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Howard Schwartz's children's books have won the Aesop Award of the American Folklore Society, the National Jewish Book Award, and the Storytelling World Award. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

Kristina Swarner illustrates books and cards, and has paintings in numerous private collections. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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Before You Were Born 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have not read this book, but I had this dream 'and I wasn't even sleeping' that I was back in the heaven right before I was born. It was so right and the purest thing I have ever experienced. And it has been driving my crazy trying to figure out if I was going crazy or if I remembered something I was never supposed to remember. It was like a big secret I was hiding from myself. So i typed in the search engine 'before I was born' and this story popped up and it gave me the most instense chills. It brought tears of joy. whoever wrote this story had the memory. another weird thing is i remember a big book being opened and then i remember the first thing i seen was my hands opening like a book like the start of my life like a story of my life
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this very lovely book. The story itself brings tears to me eyes and the pictures are beautiful as well. Makes a great gift for new babies or young children. Parents will love it too !
Guest More than 1 year ago
Words can hardly describe the incredible sense of calmness and wonder this book leaves with you. Regardless of your denomination, age, or belief in angels this ancient story offers something for everyone. For me (age 41), it was certainly thought-provoking. The soft colorful illustrations are just as serene as the words. My six year-old daughter, ten year-old son, and 65 year-old mother each took in the story from different angles, but found commonality in its meaning. Reminds me of my other favorite great authors and illustrators.