Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Skinnamarink – Sharon Hampson, Lois Lillienstein and Bram Morrison, with Randi Hampson and Qin Leng, Tundra Books, 2019
Children’s illustrated books that interpret well-known songs are generally assured of an audience. It may be the parents who are eager to share with their children the rousing lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land or Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. It may be a classic lullaby, such as Marla Frazee’s faithful but funny version of Hush, Little Baby. There is the underrated Sesame Street Golden Book of The Monster’s on the Bus, for both kids and parents who have exhausted the possibilities of the original song.
Now there is a wonderful addition to this genre, an absolutely lovely and enactment in antic pictures by Qin Leng of Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s most popular song. If you have never had the joyful experience of watching or listening to this Canadian trio of kid folk performers, this book is a good place to start. If you are already a fan, this unselfconsciously antic exploration of a song about unconditional love will not disappoint.
As Sharon and Bram, (Lois passed away in 2015), characterize their years of experience performing and listening, this is a song to be sung “loudly and proudly,” and, one might add for this book, naturally and constantly. Leng’s pictures are delicately colored and fluid scenes. Lines from the song accompany each image, encouraging readers to narrate the book by singing.
Her scenes are also messy, in the very best sense of the word. There are a smiling mom and dad working as a team to bathe two lively kids. One child is in the tub gesturing the song; the other is drying off with her mother while the father rushes through the door with some nicely folded pajamas. Overturned bottles, puddles of water, and even a mouse doing a high dive from a shelf illustrate the sort of everyday activities that indicate love in the understated style of both the song’s lyrics and Leng’s art.
Of course, grumpy children deserve love, too. A compassionate dad brings a tray of milk and cookies to an angry little boy fuming in a supply closet. (insert image) A huge bear, small duck, and smaller fox, who peacefully coexist in the universe of this book, lean over the stairs watching expectantly, read for the family hug to remedy matters.
Every picture unobtrusively celebrates diversity, with people of different races, ages, and abilities, living and learning together. One image makes this more explicit, as a teacher, looking as enthusiastic as her students, gathers them around a huge globe. Its size makes it more of a symbol than an actual teaching tool; one of the most engaging aspects of Leng’s illustrations is this melding of reality and fantasy. Animals wear clothes and mice plant flags. Some kids reach out to touch their homelands, while others remain seated, behind desks or on top of them. (One bookish child with oversized glasses remains fixated on a large book rather than sharing everyone else’s fascination with the globe.)
A city street captioned, “Be sure to sing this love song with everyone around,” gives Leng the opportunity to create an entire miniaturized environment. Readers can peek in windows to see animals and humans enjoying snacks in a restaurant and watch musicians perform, while, outside, a hedgehog steadies his bicycle for a ride. Children typically love to find these small details. They will also appreciate the humor of a duck crossing guard helping a mom with her ducklings. Parents may see an affectionate homage to Robert McCloskey’s picture book classic, Make Way for Ducklings.
It’s hard to see how anyone could fail to appreciate this dynamic reimagining of Skinnamarink. Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s long career, dedicated to bringing music into the lives of families, has found the perfect book to express love and gratitude for their work.