In “Lullaby of the Valley,” Tuula Pere tells the story of a small family that has been separated by war. Kaina lives with her grandchildren and daughter-in-law, Amira, while her son, Karam, is off fighting a war with a neighboring village. Kaina reminisces on simpler times when both villages lived in harmony and laments being unable to see her friends from the other village. One night, Kaina comes across one of these friends, and the two old women sit together singing a lullaby they would sing to their children when they were younger. The song is so beautiful that it rings throughout the hills and reaches the sleeping warriors, including Karam. When he finally finds his mother in the woods, he sits with her and sleeps. When he wakes, he resolves to go back to his soldiers and encourage them to end the senseless war so that the two villages can once more live in peace and the men can return to their families.
Pere consistently sets herself apart from her contemporaries with the depth of her themes. “Lullaby of the Valley” is no different, as it takes on the senselessness of war and teaches children the power of unity. Kaina, its wise protagonist, uses the power of tradition and shared history to end a conflict started over a misunderstanding amplified by a sense of mistrust. Pere again excels in telling a compelling story that prepares today’s children for the world we currently live in. Her invocation of the oral tradition reminds us of the healing power of shared experience in a way that children won’t necessarily need to understand; it will certainly stick with them. Alemanno’s vivid illustrations, a swirl of blue and gray, further serve to leave a lasting impression, bringing home the book’s wistful, however somewhat dark, tone.
The book’s standout feature is its worldbuilding. Pere builds a sense of place in “Lullaby of the Valley” absent in varying degrees from her other books, resulting in a more robust, engaging narrative for young children. Again, Alemanno’s depiction of the various landscapes throughout both villages perfectly accentuates the character of the two villages and their shared history. Kaina, the bridge between the two villages, is written in a way that both parents and children will trust — she is a grandmother through and through. She wants nothing more than for her family to be happy, safe, and together. It is her wisdom that prevails in ending the war and, ultimately, her voice that conveys Pere’s powerful message.
Like many of Pere’s stories, “Lullaby of the Valley” asks parents to be ready and willing to have difficult conversations with their children but doesn’t leave them out dry; she gives you everything you need to prepare your kids for the future and the realities of a big, sometimes scary world.