Sandbox Book Club Recommendation #6
Mama Do You Love Me? and Papa Do You Love Me?
by Barbara M. Joosse
illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
I am so excited to share these books today because although their illustrations are amazing and their stories universal, I don't think they're very well known. That is really too bad because these are probably the most sophisticated and educational (in the grown-up sense; you know, beyond teaching basic concepts) books in our library. My mother-in-law gave Jax Mama, Do You Love Me? and I loved it so much I bought Papa, Do You Love Me? right away. (There is also Grandma Calls Me Beautiful which features the same illustrator, but I don't have that one yet).
So the reason these books are so special is their characters. Joosse develops each story about a specific group of people; in Mama, the story centers around the Inuit people of the Arctic (also known as eskimos) and gives a fascinating peek into their traditions and daily lives. The story is about a little girl who is testing her mother's limits, wondering how far she can go without losing her mother's love. Of course, throughout the story, the girl learns that no matter what she does or how angry or frightened she makes her mother, her mama will always love her. But the fascinating part of the story which takes it to another level is how she tests her mother; in ways that illustrate their people's lives and provide unique vocabulary for its readers. Like wondering how mad her mother would get ("very angry", it turns out) if she threw water at their lamp. Kids would be fascinated to consider the fact that people may only have one source of heat or light in their home, and that it isn't plugged into a wall!
The daughter also wonders,
"What if I put salmon in your parka, ermine in your mittens, and lemmings in your mukluks?"
It's the same as saying, what if I put fish in your jacket, weasels in your mittens, and rodents in your Uggs? But so much cooler. And don't worry; if you're like, But I don't know what those things are! What am I supposed to tell my kid? These books come with an actual glossary of terms, as well as a quick history of the story's people, so you will quickly become an expert on all things Inuit. Not to mention, get to teach your kid what a glossary is, which isn't exactly common in children's books!
And the second reason these books are so unforgettable is the illustrations. They're remarkable. They're actually watercolors and absolutely beautiful.
By the way, Mama, Do You Love Me? is available as a board book as well (although I'm not sure if it has the glossary).
Papa, Do You Love Me? is the story of the native people who live on the Maasai mara in Kenya, made famous by its public wildlife reservation. This story is about unconditional love, and how no matter what the son does, his father will always love him and teach him.
The feeling of admiration and respect the son has for the father is so palpable in this story; he wants to know what to do in certain situations: "What if a lion prowled in our camp, swished his tail, and rumbled for food...and I was his food?" The father always guides and protects him and makes him feel safe, just as I feel all fathers should. It's a great story for fathers to read to their little boys (although these stories aren't gender-specific; Jax likes them both equally).