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The Sweetest One of All

Children's book bears an important message about yearning and belonging

By Sheryl Spencer

The Sweetest One of All
By Jean Little,
illustrated by Marisol Sarrazin
(North Winds Press) $19.99

We are born asking two fundamental questions: “Who are you?” directed to our mothers, and “Who am I?” directed to ourselves. The responses we receive forge the nature of our most fundamental relationship, that of mother and child.

The Sweetest One of All is well-known Canadian children’s author Jean Little’s most recent picture book, and it is a delight from beginning to end. A cow looks down at a skipping lamb and wishes she had one. “Nonsense,” the sheep scolds, “You don’t want a lamb, you want a calf.” By turn, each mother on the farm gets the right kind of baby; each baby identifies its mother; and each mother envelops her child with love, acceptance and belonging, including the human mother and child at the end.

“Who am I?” the lamb asks. “You,” the sheep says, “are the loveliest lamb in the land.” The Sweetest One of All celebrates our first identity — as the child of the mother — and presents the mother’s ideal response, one of utter enchantment with her newborn.

In a career that has seen over 40 books for children published, Jean
Little shows finesse with the picture-book form. Both author and illustrator speak the language of belonging, for The Sweetest One of All is deliciously rich in its uncomplicated simplicity.

Quebec illustrator Marisol Sarrazin’s deft use of pastels creates a bucolic springtime where butterflies, flowers, dragonflies and two cats wander among the main subjects of each illustration. The realistic details of a farm — enclosures, fences, barns — are nowhere to be found. Instead, the pages are filled with the love between the farmyard mothers and their offspring.  

This book is also fun to read. Little’s love of language is evident in frequent alliteration and lively dialogue, and she is able, even within a few short sentences, to endow each animal with character.

The Sweetest One of All bears an important message, one of having what is yearned for, of belonging where one belongs. It made me wish for little ones to read it to. Even so, my 12-year-old daughter snuggled into my arms and settled there for the story, still the sweetest one of all.

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