In Navaho (Diné) culture, clans hold a First Laugh Celebration that honors this vital sign of a new baby's spiritual health. As the mother and child are presented, relatives chant "the mother is alive and the baby is alive!"
This loving, communal story leads up to that moment. Family members of one Navajo baby surround him, watching, tickling, and smiling while they await his first laugh. Will he laugh when his tummy is filled? When raven teases by swooping low, then high?
Baby starts in the city, where his Papa welds steel buildings and his mama teaches schoolchildren. We travel with him to the Navajo Nation and watch with him while his mama weaves bluebirds and thrushes into her tree-of-life rug and his grandmother takes him on horseback across the red mesa to see her sheep. Details like these, along with bits of Navajo language like cheii for grandfather, make the book a rich resource for early learning.
Jonathan Nelson's tenderly expectant illustrations help us feel part of both worlds, the family's city home and the Navajo Nation. Nelson is Diné, as was Rose Ann Tahe, who contracted a sudden illness and, sadly, died only weeks after the manuscript for this book was completed. Nancy Bo Flood — a research psychologist who lived on the Navajo Nation for fifteen years — asked Tahe's family what they wanted to do, and their wish was for this book to become real.
The final three pages of the book teach caregivers and older children not only more about the First Laugh Celebration, but also about other baby welcomes around the world. Among other things we learn that ancient Greeks offered to Artemis, the moon goddess, round cakes like full moons, lit with candles — the forerunners of our birthday cakes!