Providing a marked contrast to the photo-realism detailed account of the tsunami aftermath presented in Owen & Mzee, Mama is a nearly wordless tale of a hippo rescued after a tsunami that avoids a discussion of grim facts or sobering details and instead uses only artwork to show how the life of a young hippo, Baby, is transformed the day the wave hit. Winter, author of The Librarian of Basra—another story punctuated by death and loss—delivers a message of compassion and hope by merely repeating two emotion laden words: “Mama” and “Baby,” throughout the ordeal. Mama represents the entirety of Baby’s world, and without her, his world is dark and scary.
Acrylic paintings featuring intense shades of green, orange and pink give way to darker blues and purples as Baby struggles to make sense of his new surroundings. Without benefit of text or narrative, the two characters embody love and demonstrate the capacity of all creatures to tender this most basic human behavior. As Baby finds a surrogate parent in an elderly tortoise, a heaven bound image of Mama watches him begin life again. This is a compressed experience that will require some adult storytelling with the 5- to 7-year-olds who will be attracted by its format.
This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 31, 2006.