Four New Bed-time Beauties

h1 December 2nd, 2006 by jules

Let’s talk four new, beguiling bed-time books, shall we? We can add them to our growing list. One of them is from an award-winning, master author/illustrator who has been at his craft for over four decades; one of them does not set out to be a bed-time book but works well as one; one of them even features — subtly, that is — a certain jolly, sack-carrying, gift-giving man of the holiday season, should you be seeking out some good, new Christmas titles; and one of them might get the wee ones riled up before bed-time, but I’m still putting it in this category. Just humor me. And each one of them, save for one, was expertly crafted by one person, an author/illustrator. Let’s get right to it then . . .

while-you-are-sleeping.gifWhile You Are Sleeping by Alexis Deacon — This one is told from the point-of-view of a young girl’s toys and all their efforts to take care of her during the night. Parents will, in particular, get a chuckle out of the opening scene of the fatigued toys, collapsing at the end of a long day of play: “We are the bedside toys. Do you ever stop to think what we go through, night after night, to look after you?” Well, of course, those developmentally self-focused pre-schoolers at whom the book is aimed (you know, the id, the ego, the preoperational, etcetera, etcetera) aren’t going to think in those terms, especially when it comes to the parental units, but hearing it come from their beloved toys will fascinate them (this being one of the best toys-come-to-life stories I’ve seen). And they really do work hard. Enlisting the help of the girl’s new toy, they check the entire room (even daring to go under the bed); regulate the girl’s temperature all night by adjusting covers if too hot or too cold; squish those bedbugs flat; make sure she doesn’t wake to see Santa (who is oh-so subtly presented from afar and in soft focus in her doorway on Christmas Eve); and scare her bad dreams away (a double-page spread with gentle humor, involving some wacky, red glasses on the toy monkey and a bucket on the head of her Pooh-like stuffed bear). Why do they go to this effort? Well, for the pure pleasure and honor of being a bedside toy. Now, let me tell you: The illustrations in this picture book are simply sublime. I have never seen Deacon’s work before, but after seeing this, I promptly sought out his two previous titles (2003’s Beegu and 2005’s Jitterbug Jam, written by Barbara Jean Hicks — both named a New York Times Book Review’s Best Illustrated Book of the Year). These are soft, eloquent illustrations that border on ethereal in spots. Utterly gorgeous. Dreamy. What are the chances that I can convince this talented man to come to the States and paint portraits of my daughters? Anyway, get this book and see these illustrations. Luxuriate in them. Savor them. A flawless bed-time book.

so-sleepy-story.gifSo Sleepy Story by Uri Shulevitz — Shulevitz, the Caldecott Award-winning master of the picture book form, is here to lull us to sleep. In the So Sleepy Story, he personifies a home and all that’s inside, anthropomorphizing in much detail — as in, everything in the house is tuckered out, a “sleepy sleepy house” in which “everything is sleepy sleepy.” With pleasing repetition, Shulevitz shows them all to the reader — the chairs, the pictures, a cat, the dishes, and a “sleepy sleepy boy in a sleepy sleepy bed.” Suddenly and “softly softly music drifts in. Then louder and louder. Sleepy chairs being to shake then rock.” And then all the objects in the house are bustin’ a groove, swaying, dancing, and we get brighter, bigger, more animated illustrations. And for two double page spreads they’re wordless illustrations, too, as if a Domestic Wild Rumpus — but this one of furniture and home accessories. Even the boy wakes. Is he dreaming? Is it a routine night-time waking? Has music really made its way through the window? Shulevitz leaves it to the reader to decide. And, more importantly, he returns us to the soothing hush as music drifts away, the illustrations shrink back, return to their tidy borders, and become more muted in shade and hue again. The cat shuts its eyes, the cuckoo clock falls silent, and the “sleepy boy falls back to sleep in a sleepy sleepy house.” Aren’t you nodding your head just reading about it?

my-book-box.gifMy Book Box by Will Hillenbrand — I love me some Will Hillenbrand art work. My Book Box was released in August of this year; apparently, it was created for the kick-off for a summer reading program at the Hillenbrand’s local library (lucky them). We first see a box with a simple question mark on it, followed by elephant and frog, who are big buds, asking in big, bold, dark brown text, “{w}hat can I do with a box?” They run through a host of ideas (pizza box, hat box, hide-and-seek box, pasta box, etc.), and the pre-schoolers at whom the book is aimed will get a big kick out of the use they put towards each box (particularly frog who, at one point, gets wrapped in pasta). But with an infectious enthusiasm they finally settle on the idea of a book box, showing all the fun things one can do with such a container. Hillenbrand’s illustrations — rendered in egg tempera, oil pastels, and ink on canvas — are bold and colorful with much texture and humor, giving our pachyderm protagonist, his froggy friend, and their antics center stage on a clean, white background. This one doesn’t set out to be a bed-time title, but it works well as one, as in the end the elephant declares, “I especially love my book box at bedtime. It helps me to have . . . sweet dreams.” And off to slumberland they’ve gone in their sleeping bags in their dark room — with their books held tight, of course.

oh-no-not-ghosts.gifOh No, Not Ghosts! by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Adam McCauley — I admit this would have been a perfect review for a Halloween post, but I’m just now getting around to it. And I’m forcing it into the bed-time category, because it’s about a brother and sister attempting to go to sleep yet working through fears instead. In other words, not exactly soothing, but humor me, ’cause I want to tell you about it. A young girl, sharing a room with her brother, is afraid of the howling winds outside and can’t sleep. So, does he soothe her? Do you have a big brother? Nah, he makes it worse, telling her “there are no ghosts around,” to which she replies “Ghosts? Oh no, not ghosts!” And on and on he goes, managing to scare her more with all the terrifically scary unmentionables — werewolves, giants, witches, skeletons, demons, etc. In the end, the Dad Monster appears — yes, Dad, who was simply trying to get some shut-eye. It’s amusing. Michelson’s mischievous rhyming text, becoming incrementally impish as we go along, is great fun and would serve as a great read-aloud. And McCauley, who illustrated the wonderful Mom and Dad are Palindromes (reviewed here by yours truly), brings us dramatic angles and perspectives and close-ups (and lots of humor) with his manic mixed-media illustrations. Let the pictures speak for themselves; go here and scroll through those illustrations. And in my continued effort to make as many reviews as possible relate to Maurice Sendak, my literary hero, I will add that McCauley dedicates this one to him. Hmmm . . . a big fan or a Sendak protégé? Inquiring minds wanna know . . . I’ll ask Maurice next time he comes over for coffee. Really, this books possesses a nice Sendakian theme: Children facing fears on their own without running to Mom or Dad. Don’t miss this one.

On that note, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite (or werewolves or witches or skeletons — or big brothers, for that matter) . . . and don’t forget your favorite bed-side toy. They work hard for you, you know . . .

7 comments to “Four New Bed-time Beauties”

  1. as always, thanks for a great list. i’ve seen So Sleepy Story and Oh No, Not Ghosts! and agree with you 100% on those. i’ve glanced at While You Are Sleeping, but didn’t really read it in depth. but i just love Jitterbug Jam, don’t you? it’s so fun to read aloud in a southern accent.

    you just go ahead and ask ol’ buddy Maurice about that next time you see him. i’m going to try to hang out with Adam McCauley – did you check out his website? it’s really a stand-out – other illustrators take note!

  2. haven’t seen ‘jitterbug jam’ yet; i’ve requested his older titles from the pubalic liberry. looking forward to seeing it.

    actually, maurice and i are such good buds that i call him maurry. …okay, wait, i was trying to be funny, but that just sounds wrong.

    ‘my book box’ would be a great read-aloud for preschool story time, eisha.

  3. good to know, thanks for the tip. maybe it could be paired with Not A Box for a box-themed storytime. that sounds like a hard sell, though: “Hi, kids, welcome to storytime. Today’s stories are all about cardboard boxes! Yay!”

  4. i see what you mean, but you know how you always hear that they’d rather play with the box than the toy that comes in it? well, it’s oh-so true.

    i REALLY REALLY wanna see this ‘not a box’ book, which everyone whose taste i trust raves about. Motherreader just reviewed it here. and i remember Big A little a raving about it, too. neither library system here has it. d’oh! is it not even out yet? i could look that up, but i’m feeling particularly lazy right now.

  5. Hi there –

    Love your blog. Nice reviews and well organized list of authors/illustrators. Will keep checking for updates…


  6. hi, praba! your blog is nice, too! thanks for visiting.

    and j., i think Not a Box is due to be released on dec. 12 (according to amazon). i haven’t seen it either, i’m just going by everyone else’s reviews of how awesome it is. i’ve ordered it for my library, though, so hopefully i’ll get my hands on it soon.

  7. […] child is Richard Michelson’s Oh No, Not Ghosts! (Harcourt, 2006), which I reviewed back here at 7-Imp at the end of ‘06 when our images were tragically small. If you go here to […]

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