08/28/02
Motown Baby Books
    by Fiona Barnes (reader)

That's a little of "My Girl" from the Music for Little People CD, "Toddlers Sing Rock 'n' Roll" -- which could be the accompaniment for a brand new book version of that golden oldie. It's part of a series of small, first books for very young children based on Motown hits from the sixties and seventies called Mo Town Baby Love Board Books, all of them with photography by Charles R. Smith, Jr. Along with My Girl, this playful group of volumes includes I'll Be There, How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, and Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch. The premise of each book is very simple -- take the lyrics for these popular love songs, and place these words on the thick, square pages of a board book, along with seven or eight tender pictures of babies. The youngsters, none of them more than a year old, are smiling and cooing, laughing, exclaiming, and burbling in time with the familiar music that you'll hear playing in your adult memory as you move through these pages.

These are babies of every color and shape and size -- as varied as the population of our country today. And they are brought to us sincerely and without gimmicks through Charles Smith's direct and engaging photographs. His pictures and poetic texts have enlivened a number of other children's books in recent years, including another delightful board book titled Brown Sugar Babies in which he has presented what he calls the "seven colors of the black rainbow." Smith has done this, he writes, so "that by seeing the diversity of the black children, we will realize how many wonderful colors are represented, celebrate our diversity and enjoy the sweetness and love that children add to life." Smith is one of an extremely talented, and growing, movement of African-American writers and artists who are changing the complexion of American picture books today; and he's doing it with joyful originality. How sweet it is to have books like these for dark-skinned and light-skinned children alike -- at long last!

Copyright 2002 John Cech

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