Wednesday, December 19, 2018


This year, Charlesbridge published First Laugh: Welcome, Baby!

When I learned that Jonathan Nelson (illustrator of the way-cool The Wool of Jonesy) was doing the illustrations for this book, I was excited. When I got the book and saw that Nancy Bo Flood was listed as a co-author, I groaned. More on that later. For now, let's look at the art and what Nelson tells us with his art. Here's the cover:

Image result for "nelson jonathan" "first laugh"

So much to love, there, in his art! We see two adults clearly loving the child in their arms. We see a modern day house. Regular readers of AICL know that I think stories of Native people set in the present day are crucial to help non-Native people know that (and I hate saying this every single time I write or speak it) we are here, part of the present day.

When you open the book and look at the title page, you see that baby, lying in a baby bouncer, playing with a mobile... of sheep! On a blanket with sheep! See? So perfect!

From there we see babies in different places, surrounded by family members who are trying to make the baby laugh. Then, a baby smiles and laughs!

And then there's a gathering to celebrate that baby's first laugh. Take a look at it! So much joy and details to note, like the satellite dish on the house and the electric pole.

Did you know that there's a lot of writing about photographers and post card makers removing such things from photos because they wanted the Native people and places being depicted to look "authentic." Infuriating, for sure that they made decisions that if we had clocks or sewing machines or electricity or glass in our windows, we weren't "real."

Published in 1999
As I study Nelson's painting of all those folks gathered there, I am remembering Luci Tapahonso and Anthony Chee Emerson's Songs of Shiprock Fair, published in 1999 by Kiva Publishing.

I like it a lot, too, for the same reasons I like what I see in First Laugh: Welcome Baby! Set in the present day, family, crowds.

Both books provide Navajo children with mirrors of their lives and tribally specific experiences.


Now let's look at the authors.

In the back matter, the first author's note is listed as "Author's Note from the Late Rose Ann Tahe." In first person, she tells us her English name and her Navajo name. Then, she introduces herself in the traditional way, telling us that she was born into her mother's clan, and her father's clan, and what her maternal grandparents' clan is, and her paternal ones, too. That note ends with "This is who I am and where I am from."

It is followed by an author's note from Nancy Bo Flood who tells us that "Just weeks after Rose and I completed the manuscript for this book, she contracted a sudden illness that took her life." So, Flood asked Tahe's family what they wanted to do. They agreed, Flood writes, that "their mother's wish was to have this book become real."

And so--we have First Laugh: Welcome Baby! with Flood listed as the second author. On the strength of Nelson's illustrations, I am recommending First Laugh. I think his work is terrific and I want to see more of it.  

Rather than put the concerns--including appropriation--with Nancy Bo Flood here, I'll be doing a stand-alone post (12/22/18: see William Flood and Nancy Bo Flood: A History). I'll be back to add the title and link to it, soon.

Do take time to visit Nelson's website, and of course, get a copy of The Wool of Jonesy. 

I adore that book and was delighted to see a 3D version of Jonesy at Returning the Gift last year.

He's awesome!


Ava Jarvis said...

These are the kinds of stories I wish were published more often. Sadly, many editors have similar gatekeeping ideas as the photographers you mention.

I'm also reminded of certain upper middle class people who are convinced poor people don't have refrigerators.

Dalia V. said...

I really enjoyed knowing there is a book like this out there. Its nice knowing there are books showing how other cultures could be just like everyone else. There is no stereotyping here. It truly is a shame to know that there are photographers feeling the way you say. Growing up I remember usually reading books about Native Americans and arrows and hunting. While that may be their history its good to show stories like the baby one. They are just like us and everyone. I hope to find more books like this in the future. Its a great book to keep in a classroom and share with kids.