Some picture books are a challenge for adult readers: how does one read with the appreciation of a child, letting go of adult expectations about what makes a story or a poem? Lullaby Lilly is a charming tale that evokes the importance of family, creative expression and simply having fun. It is also part of a tradition that honours “child-like-ness” for its own sake.
The main character in the story is Lilly Lamm, and she loves lullabies; in fact, she exhausts her family of mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandpa and grandma with her demand for lullabies. “Make up your own,” they finally say.
What can Lilly do? She hasn’t yet learned her ABC’s, so how can she write her own verses? Fortunately, Lilly’s mother is “in the garden planting rosemary and sage . . .” She stops what she is doing and shows Lilly how to spin lullabies by recklessly combining all the words she knows (including some she didn’t know she knew) with images from the world around her.
This book offers a tender look at an ideal childhood where a mother takes time to play and the world is full of wonder. References to Lilly’s extended family erupt on the very first page and prepare the reader for the excesses that follow. Family tidbits, such as “sweet peas on Grandma’s garden gate,” are also part of Lilly’s imagination, alongside bunnies and pussy willows and thunder monsters and “licker-lacker lightning, slashing up the night.”
Like her merry little protagonist, Lilly Lamm, the author is no slouch with words, as when she writes “Lilly’s mother laughed and danced, throwing words into the willows as if they were confetti.”
The illustrations for Lullaby Lilly are as lively and colourful as the rhymes, and the illustrator is also sensitive to the text. For instance, Lilly’s “pink woolly socks” appear in the art, as do the bunnies and pussy willows and thunder clouds. The artist also remembers that little girls are seldom still, and Lilly is almost always depicted leaping, jumping or skipping. The human figures aren’t exactly naturalistic, but they capture human energy and fun.
Some of the repetition does seem a little contrived, and some of the phrases (“terse verse,” for instance) are perhaps too sophisticated for a child’s consciousness. Other readers may trip over disjointed or uneven rhythms. But if we remember the wacky rhymes our children invent when they are free of adult interference, we will also remember how those rhymes often explode in peals of laughter. Ultimately, children’s literature is not so much about literary value as about direct appeal—what delights a child. And, in being delighted, those children delight us.
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