If you could pour a new mother's tender and aspiring love on to pages, it would look like this book. Cree and Trinidadian award-winning author Tasha Spillett-Sumner and Tlingit Caldecott Medalist illustrator Michaela Goade tap into a connection between the stars and the womb that resonates with the beliefs of many cultures, while bringing their own unique magic to the story.
In her author's note, Spillett-Sumner explains that the book "shines a light on the traditional understanding of my Nation, the Inniniwak, and many other indigenous peoples globally: that babies choose their parents. It also shows the mindful preparation that is involved in getting ready to welcome a baby into a family and a community."
What could be more soulful than opening a book with the line, "I loved you before I met you"? Within it is an understanding that our connections with our parents and offspring are far more mysterious, deep, and even eternal than we normally remember to appreciate. As the mother-to-be at the heart of the book continues to narrate, we experience the care she brings to her preparations for her child. The words are pure poetry:
"As I searched for your eyes in the sky,
I saw a shooting star.
I followed it to a fluffy white eagle plume.
I held on to it. The first gift in a bundle
that will be yours."
The illustrator shows us a mother filled with delight at this plumed discovery, while a joyous white dog bounds behind her. All around them we see streams of starry, silver-white light.
In a note from the artist, Goade speaks of the abundance of spirit in everything around us, which she wanted to visualize as an energy connecting all living things. She and her editor affectionately named this visual element "the swoosh," and by flowing through all the pages of the book, it unites the gifts this mother collects for her baby's medicine bundle, which include cedar and sage, a star blanket that she sews with her own hands, and more.
It is not only the baby who is growing. The mother observes that "waiting for you taught me about patience and love." Her own ability to mother grows stronger with each gift she gathers.
But an even larger story emerges about the connections of this mother and baby to nature and their people. To add to the bundle, the mother picks up a small stone by the river, saying, "When our people travel the waterways, the song of the rushing rapids calls us home." She wants her baby to remember "you belong to this place."
Altogether this book is an extraordinary collaboration which surely will grace the hearts and minds of many a new parent and many a young child. The reading level is ages four through eight, but it could serve as inspiration for how to speak to a newborn or even a child in the womb, where, as we know little ones can hear from 18 weeks onward. "Before I held you in my arms, I sang you down from the stars."