June 2005

Testing a father’s love

By Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
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Since its publication in 1991, Mama, Do You Love Me? has become a modern children's classic. It is a cherished bedtime read-aloud and the winner of numerous awards. Set in Alaska, it transcends time and place, voicing the universal love between a mother and daughter, in this case an Inuit family.

How could author Barbara Joosse and illustrator Barbara Lavallee follow their huge hit? The title is obvious—Papa, Do You Love Me?—but the setting is not. This time, the author-illustrator team focuses on the Maasai culture of Kenya, where fathers consider their sons their greatest treasure. Author Joosse lives in Wisconsin, but a 1997 trip to Africa left a permanent mark on her heart. The result is splendid in both text and illustrations.

The words follow a pattern similar to the first book: The boy asks his father how much he loves him and how he would handle various challenges. The father's responses include references to the African bush, such as, I love you more than the warrior loves to leap, more than the bush baby loves the moon, more than the elder loves his stories. A detailed two-page spread at the end of the book explains all the Maasai terms and customs.

While the details of these two books are very culture-specific, their magic lies in the simple rendering of unconditional love. When the boy asks, What if I fell asleep anyway and hyenas crept in and killed a cow . . . and it was my birthright cow? The father says, Then, Tender Heart, I would be angry. But still, I would love you. The closing message is perfect for tucking in any young child: I'll care for you, love you, and teach you. Always. Because I am your papa, and you are my Tender Heart.

Lavallee's watercolor illustrations are magnificent, with soft oranges conveying the African heat, the sun and the rich robes and jewels of the father and son. Her images are simple, yet evocative, conveying the familial love and the distinctive Serengeti setting.

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Papa, Do You Love Me?

Papa, Do You Love Me?

By Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
ISBN 9780811842655

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