When Candide Jones sang "Rock-a-bye Baby" to her son, she realized the popular lullaby was a real "bummer."
"The cradle would fall and that's it," said the mother, whose son is now 26 years old. "Lullabies are supposed to be comforting, so I started making up new lyrics to sing to him."
What began as a sweet song between mother and son has turned into a whimsical picture book in which the cradle still falls from the tree top, but the baby's mother is right there to catch him.
"When the bough breaks, I'll be right there. And I will catch you as you fall through the air," Jones' writes in her first book, "In the Tree Top: A New Lullaby" (Black Dog Cottage Publishing, 2015), with illustrations by Steve Emery.
Jones — a North Adams native who now splits her time between her home in North Carolina and her family's cottage on Pontoosuc Lake in Lanesborough — turned her reinvented lullaby into her first book after friends and family encouraged her to put her words in print.
She had kept the idea in her back pocket, she said, while she managed a literary publishing house at Wake Forest University. It wasn't until she stumbled on Emery's illustrations that she really saw her words come to life.
"A few years ago, in a very serendipitous way, I came about the art of Steve Emery online," Jones said. "I looked at his incredibly magical watercolors and the first thing that struck me was that this guy would be great doing art for my book."
Emery, a product manager for a software company that produces patient portals by day, studied art in college but stopped formally producing artwork shortly afterward. He said work deadlines and assignments "blocked" the creative process. After 20 years away from his paintbrush, he picked it back up and started chronicling his work on his blog (sjemery.com) in 2006.
When Jones reached out to him via email to see if he was interested in working with her, Emery said he was at first unsure if he wanted to take on the project. But after she sent him the poem, he felt inspired to paint what would become the cover image of the book — a colorful watercolor with hidden animals creating a towering tree with a sweet blonde-haired baby peaking out from the tree top.
Three and a half years later, they had 12 paintings that followed the journey of this sweet boy from falling into the arms of his mother to growing and exploring the natural world around him. From the mother's flowing auburn hair to the arching tree branches, Emery found a way to illustrate a magical world in which animal shapes hide in the contours of almost every corner.
"That's what I loved about his art the first time I saw it," Jones said. "He has this very whimsical imagination. For me, in a children's book, it's perfect. It's a lullaby for very young children, but the book also works for kids ages 5, 6, 7 who love to look for hidden things — it's great for them, too."
Emery, who has three grown children, said he illustrated the book by experimenting with different techniques, some of which produced surprising results.
"My technique is to throw a bunch of lines on page while looking at something completely different — a picture of a rock concert, for example. I let my eye wander across different figures while using a pencil to blindly draw the lines I see on the page. Then I look at what's there — it's like tea leaves, I let things emerge."
What quickly emerged for Emery was a large bear, which he turned into a mountain that the baby plays hide and seek behind.
"It's the weird way the work goes," he said.
This vision came to life between the two entirely over email. It wasn't until the book was almost complete that they spoke on the phone for the first time, Jones said. After working together they also found out their lives had similar patterns. Emery also lives in North Carolina, but grew up in Red Hook, N.Y., backpacking often in the Berkshires.
"He was on one side of the Taconic Mountain and I was on the other," Jones said. "It's all very synchronistic."
Emery, who as a child always found the hidden shapes in the everyday objects like finding animals floating in clouds, said he hopes the book inspires children of all ages to look at the world more creatively.
"I would love for readers to take away the sense of the magic of the world around them, make them look at things imaginatively," he said. "To ask themselves, 'What could it be, what might it be, what makes me feel those kind of things?' Those are the first steps into the creative world."
For Jones, seeing the poem she long ago created for her baby boy set to paper is "magical."
"This book is for him," she simply said.
What: 'In the Tree Top: A New Lullaby' by Candide Jones with illustrations by Steve Emery
Details: Black Dog Cottage Publishing, 32 pages, $18.95
Where to purchase: Amazon; The Red Lion Inn gift shop in Stockbridge; Dory & Ginger on North Street, Pittsfield; The Bookstore in Lenox; www.blackdogcottagepublishing.com/.