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When Baby Sloth tumbles out of a tree, Mama Sloth comes for him — s l o w l y

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Doreen and Brian Cronin aren't related — as far as they know. They first stumbled across each other on Facebook: two Cronins, both working in the world of children's books — Doreen as an author and Brian as an illustrator — and living in the same city? They should probably get a cup of coffee!

"We decided to meet up. We both live in Brooklyn and we met on a bench in Prospect Park just to chat," explains Doreen Cronin, "and that was three years ago."

They didn't let the perfect meet-cute go to waste — they hit it off, both personally and professionally. Soon, they were dating and working together.

"We're in it now!" Doreen laughs.

The Cronins admit they were at first a touch apprehensive about working together as a new couple. Brian had never collaborated with an author before. But they couldn't really help it, says Doreen.

"It's what we were both doing all day long," she explains. "We're always talking about books. We're always talking about ideas." Luckily, it's worked out.

"I really love it," says Brian. "I think it's made us stronger."

Their first picture book together was last year's Lawrence and Sophia. They quickly followed up with Mama in the Moon, about a baby sloth who falls out of a tree at night and has to wait for his mom to s l o w l y come get him.

/ Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books
/
Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

They got the idea for Mama in the Moon over breakfast — Doreen says they create a lot over coffee and food — and that morning Brian had just read a news story.

"It was a news story about a sloth who had fallen out of a tree," he says. "It felt real. It is real." That's because sloths do, in fact, fall out of trees about once a week for their whole lives. "It kind of wrote itself, really," Brian says. By the time they left the diner, Doreen already had jotted down some notes and Brian already had some sketches for their second children's book.

"Baby loved sleeping between his mama and the moon," Doreen Cronin writes.

"One night, Baby tumbled from the tree. He landed in a soft patch of vines and leaves.

'Mama, where are you?' he called."

Mama in the Moon
/ Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books
/
Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books
Mama in the Moon

"We were, like, in tears when we finished it and kind of read it for the first time," says Doreen.

"I was, actually," adds Brian.

"We're both parents, right, so we kind of know that — well, all parents know this — feeling of separation from your child," explains Doreen. "When they're waiting for you to come back or they need your comfort, and you can't always get there."

In the story, Mama Sloth comforts and reassures Baby Sloth. 'I'm coming,' she says. She distracts him, asking him to use all his senses to explore the dark world around him.

"'Are you close now, Mama,'" the baby sloth calls up from the ground.

"'I'm closer, Baby. I'm close enough to smell the flowers opening for the night. Can you smell them, too?'"

"Baby watched the bright petals of the flowers bend and fold. He could smell their sweet perfume," Doreen Cronin writes.

/ Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books
/
Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

The tenderness of the mama sloth to her baby sloth really comes through in Brian's art, says Doreen. "I've seen the art so many times. I can still feel her love and her comfort and her calm."

Brian Cronin says his process for creating art is very simple — he doesn't have one. "Every time I start something, it's like a kind of a beginning." For Mama in the Moon, he started with pencil sketches. Then he used poster paints and a marker for the trees to create a broken-line effect.

"I wanted it to feel like there was a human behind the thing," he says.

One of the challenges in illustrating this story is that it takes place at night —how do you add light so it doesn't feel too scary and dark? "The moon," Brian says. The bright, fuzzy orb (fuzzy to mimic the fur on the sloths) is on most of the pages, or else lighting up the night sky. The baby sloth is a bright salmon pink amidst the dark foliage. And when Mama Sloth points out all the things Baby Sloth can smell (like the flowers opening for the night), and hear (like the worms wriggling in the fallen leaves), and feel (like the flutter of moths dancing in the air), they come to life against the charcoal pages in bright, almost neon, yellows, pinks, blues and greens.

Brian Cronin says he hopes the book helps kids fall asleep.

"The reason I wanted to do the dark pages was so that they're in bed and the mommy and daddy, or whoever it is reading the book, they're not disturbed by the text or the brightness of anything, and they can just kind of soak it up," he explains. "It's fairly relaxing, I think."

Doreen Cronin agrees.

"I think it's comfort, safety, and I think it puts us in kind of a quiet space," she says, "and I hope it does, out in the world. Give us some quiet space. Give kids a quiet space."

Copyright 2024 NPR

/ Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books
/
Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.