Picture Book Review: The 108th Sheep by Ayano Imai

h1 April 10th, 2007 by jules

Just why oh why have I not heard of Ayano Imai ’til now? What beautiful illustrations in this little charmer called The 108th Sheep, which I could tack on to my recent short, little post about international books, since this was originally published in Great Britain in ’06 but is just now showing up here in the U.S. (published by Tiger Tales, an imprint of ME Media, March 2007). Imai, according to this wonderful link about her at the Tokyo Chapter of the SCBWI site, was born in England, later spent some time living in the U.S., and then resettled in Japan to study Japanese painting. This is her first picture book (which I suppose is the answer to my first question). And oh my it’s pretty.

What is it about? you wonder. Well, quite simply, it’s about a young girl, Emma, who cannot “sleep a wink. She tried everything she could think of, but nothing made her sleepy.” She tries warm milk and reading lots of books, but they fail to entice her to sleep. She decides to try counting sheep. Much to her vexation, she is still going at the count of 100:

“There goes 106,” she said. “And there’s 107. And now here comes . . .”

There was a thud, and Emma’s bed shook slightly.

The 108th sheep did not appear.

Poor little guy just can’t make it over the headboard. He never could jump very high, he tells her, and he’s been training for this, just like the other sheep, but he can’t do it. The other sheep are so tired and urge Emma to help this poor, hapless sheep, saying “If 108 doesn’t jump over your bed, Emma, then none of us can get any sleep. And we’re so tired!”

So, they put their heads together and make various attempts to get the 108th sheep over the bed (the first attempt being an awkward stroll on some very tall golf clubs; there’s droll, very subtle humor like this laced throughout the book). Resourceful Emma finally figures out a way to get him to the other side of the bed, which I won’t reveal lest you want to discover that for yourself when you go pick up a copy of this book after having been so terrifically intrigued by my profound review here (heh).

The story itself here is not in any way outstanding or remarkably clever. It’s a quiet, unruffled little story about trying to fall asleep. It does its job . . . but it’s Imai’s illustrations that appeal to me and make me want to see more of her work and hope she makes more books (and, as the Publishers Weekly review put it, “{m}ost of the book’s creative energy is visual”). Our color scheme here is simply a lot of cream, a bit of crimson (the wide borders around each illustration), and lots of charcoal grey with beautiful shading and lovely, soft lines, which she achieves with a mixture of watercolor and pencil. Imai plays with the borders, too, having Emma step out of them, peer around them, peek over them. And the sheep have crimson numbers on them, which makes me chuckle, as if they’re running out onto the field for your favorite sleepy-time sport with their sleepy-time jerseys on (they’re leaping all over the pretty endpages, too).

I’m glad I stumbled upon this one at my local library. Its winsome, handsome illustrations make me want to keep my eye on Imai and whatever she brings us next.

Here’s to warm milk before bed, the 108th sheep, and lots and lots of sleep (which we bloggers don’t get enough of, ’cause we’re, uh, too busy reading and blogging). I have a French import in hand to talk about next time (and some American titles, too, in my huge, huge stack of picture books), so until then . . .

One comment to “Picture Book Review: The 108th Sheep by Ayano Imai”

  1. This looks cool, J. I’ll look for it. Thanks!

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