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Crescendo

Crescendo takes the reader through human gestation, beginning at the fifth week of pregnancy and extending through the 40th. Each week is honored in a two-page spread featuring Paola Quintavalle's spare, carefully chosen text and a facing illustration. Taken together, every four weeks of snippets read like a freestanding poem. For Month 6: "You are learning to cry/ Your eyes conserve the color of the night sky/ You cannot see, but you sense the light/ As you turn and tip and tip and turn." This is all lovely, but how is an artist expected to produce dozens of engrossing illustrations based on developments occurring entirely within the womb? Alessandro Sanna has come up with a rather ingenious plan: for each featured month, he offers an illustration of a pregnant woman's body in profile followed by four images--one representing each week--that contain a line mimicking that very same swerve of breast and belly.

Is there a picture book out there that better marries art and science? Sanna seems to be working in watercolor with a brush dipped in celestial light and fairy dust, and yet Crescendo is deeply scientific. Quintavalle has loaded her pen not with sunshine and moonglow but with information about human gestation; her narrative, utterly faithful to the stages of embryotic and fetal growth, concludes with the section "Developmental Facts That Inspired the Text." Crescendo is a book that belongs on multiple shelves in the kids' section of a bookstore or library, but the truth is, it wouldn't be out of place in an adult's collection. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author