Behind the cover of Lullaby (for a Black Mother)

“My little dark baby, / My little earth-thing, / My little love-one, / What shall I sing / For your lullaby?”

With a few simple words as smooth as a song, the poet Langston Hughes celebrates the love between an African American mother and her baby. The award-winning illustrator Sean Qualls’s painted and collaged artwork captures universally powerful maternal moments with tenderness and whimsy. In the end, readers will find a rare photo of baby Hughes and his mother, a biographical note, further reading, and the complete lullaby.

Like little love-ones, this beautiful book is a treasure.

Behind the Cover of Lullaby

Illustrator Sean Qualls shares early sketches of the cover for Lullaby and walks us through the development process.


I came up with the idea for the cover while I was still working on the interior art for the book. I’m a big fan of religious icon paintings so I’m pretty sure the idea came from there.


The editor and I discussed adding more of the mother’s body.


We also discussed having the mother and child looking at each to emphasize the bond between them. Also, I changed the musical staffs to look more organic.


By this time the look of the mother had changed in the interior art so I changed her on the cover as well.


In the earlier version of the cover I drew the flora at the bottom with pencil.


In the final version I decided it would be better to have more color on the cover so I replaced the pencil with collage. Also, I thought the musical notes in black pencil were too dark so I changed them to white.


“Hughes’ classic lullaby gets a loving lift with Quall’s graceful artwork.”

“A wonderful celebration of both love and poetry.”
—School Library Journal

“A quiet but welcome introduction to the writer’s work for the very young.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Share with little ones needing a gentle lullaby.”

“Not all poems make for great picture book texts, but this one has just the right cadence and all the right line breaks for smooth page turns, especially when accompanied by Qualls’s superb art showing the deep bond between a mother and her baby at bedtime.”
Horn Book

This beloved poem by Langston Hughes, in picture-book form for the first time and illustrated by the award-winning Sean Qualls, is an irresistible celebration of poetry and the love between mother and baby. Oh, and it makes a wonderful mother’s day gift!

Visit Sean Qualls’s Facebook page to discover more of his beautiful art.