Thomas, Joyce Carol.
HUSH SONGS. Ill. by Brenda Joysmith. New
York: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN: 0-7868-0562-5
Hush Songs is a collection of African American lullabies. The ten
lullabies included are “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “The Angels’ Lullaby,” “Brown Baby,”
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Raisins and Almonds,”
“Petal Child,” “Scarlet Ribbons,” “Somebody Bigger than You and I,” and “A Song
for You.” Some of the songs are from famous composers and musicologists
such as Steve Roberts, who wrote “A Song for You,” and Olly Wilson, composer of “The Angels’ Lullaby.”
The lullabies are
Anglo-Saxon music transfigured into African-American notations. While representing
peace, the songs also reinforce rhymes and patterns. The relatively short, soothing
lyrics work to calm both babies and parents. The lengths of the songs are definitely
appropriate. Along with each lullaby, is a historical headnote. It briefly describes the origin of the lullaby.
In addition to the
historical headnotes, each song is accompanied by an illustration designed exclusively for the individual lullaby. The pictures add meaning to the songs. For example, for the
lullaby, “The Angels’ Lullaby,” there is an illustration of flying baby angels. The historical headnote explains that the lullaby was created for Thomas’s seventh granddaughter
and Olly Wilson’s first granddaughter. The combination of the music, lyrics
and illustration is a wonderful expression of peace and love.
are full of character, allowing the reader to identify with the small children and parents in the book. In all of the pictures, you can see the life and the innocence of the children, and get an overall feeling
of warmth and hope for children’s lives. The book represents the meaning
of African American families and the strong
bonds that are created
between parents and their children.
The author's writing
style of Hush Songs is somewhat parallel to her book, Gingerbread Days. The spiritual aspect of Joyce
Carol Thomas's collections are the central overall theme. The introduction of the book, the author defines an African American hush song as a forward-moving rhythm. She discusses how important it is to remember that the “improvisation was and
is a vital part of the African American musical tradition.”
It is interesting
that in some of the headnotes, there are suggestions as to how you may choose to sing the song or to use your imagination
– helping the lyrics flow easily. For example, in the lullaby, “Raisins
and Almonds,” the author writes, “it can be harmonized in the bonding voice of communal assurance or it can be
a solo crooned with the intimacy of a mother’s sweet promise.”
The repetitive use
of words and phrases in the lullabies show the creativity of the writer. It also
helps the rhythm of the songs. Hush Songs is a great book to use for getting
children hooked on poetry. The songs are very expressive and promote the sharing
of poems. Even while I was reading the book, I could not help but to start singing
the songs. Each song has a simple melody, with gospel synonyms and expressions.
Thomas won the 2001 Oklahoma Book Award in the Children and Young Adult category with Hush Songs.