by Jonathan Bean
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books
for Young Readers
Jonathan Bean is having one impressive year. And I’m basing that solely on this picture book and his illustrations for Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell (co-reviewed here) and Mokie & Bik by Wendy Orr (co-review to come). I still have yet to see what is, by all accounts, the luscious The Apple Pie That Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson (but will get my hands on it as soon as I can, my friends).
So, what do you do when you can’t sleep at night? For the young girl in Jonathan Bean’s latest picture book (which he both wrote and illustrated), who can’t seem to doze off in her snug bedroom as she listens to her mother and father and sister and brother and their “quiet breathing,” it’s easy: Get inspired by the breeze blowing through the window and follow it up through the door and up the stairs — with pillows, a sheet, and blanket in hand — to the roof, “where the small breeze joined the cool night air.” There she sits on the roof of her house in the city, gazing at the sky and pondering “the wide world all around her,” smiling. Finally, she can sleep. And, on the final page, we see her mother has joined her with her cup of coffee in hand.
Now, let me tell you about the wonder of this book: It is about the quiet, hushed, magical wonder of night itself. For the most part, the opening, square illustrations are outlined in a simple, black line, centered in their white space. But then, when the young girl reaches the roof and the world opens up for her, the vast sky spreading before her, the illustrations are full-bleed, expanding the horizon further in four continuous spreads in which Bean zooms out to the cloudy night sky and city beyond the girl’s home. It’s loveliness all around. The pacing is perfect, and the gentle, spare, calm rhythm of the text is perfect. And it’s a great bed-timer, a thoughtful meditation on the wonder of the wide world around (don’t you remember looking at the sky as a child and wondering about the sky and space and the universe, just as this girl does? She uses this meditation, if you will, to help her get to sleep).
And the whole thing’s perfect. Flawless. Perfect.
by Yuyi Morales
Roaring Brook Press
It’s time for Little Night to go to sleep: Mother Sky fills the tub with falling stars, but Little Night will have nothing to do with it: “Can’t come. I am hiding and you have to find me now, Mama. Find me now!” This continues with the repeated refrain of “whom does she see?” as Mother Sky searches for her wee babe, followed by the completion of one more getting-to-bed preparation — “Face scrub, lather up, towel spread, and catch Little Night in the air” and “Two arms in, one head out, button the white dress crocheted from clouds.” And Morales doesn’t stop there with the inventive belongings in Little Night’s world — she drinks stars dripping from the Milky Way, and her hairpins are “Venus on the east, Mercury on the west, and Jupiter above.” She also plays with her “moon ball” on the final spread in what is an altogether abrupt ending in an otherwise gorgeous, lyrical picture book. Morales’ fanciful, dreamlike illustrations swing from rich pinks and reds and oranges of twilight (in primarily Mother Sky’s sweeping skirt) to the shadowy, even richer blues and dark greens and browns of night, as the stars make their appearance, perfectly balanced in Morales’ sweeping, full-bleed spreads. The School Library Journal review wrote, “A treasure for bedtime, or anytime.” I can personally vouch for that statement, as I know a certain almost-two-year-old who could pretty much listen to and take in the luxurious illustrations of this imaginative romp all day long.
by Isobelle Carmody
and illustrated by Declan Lee
Random House Books
for Young Readers
No, no one slipped anything into my coffee this morning; it’s simply the fantastical mind of Isobelle Carmody at work in this new picture book, Magic Night, with truly and delightfully bizarre illustrations by Declan Lee. Something — a strange thing, a lost thing that “belongs some otherwhere” — flits into a house by the ocean at approximately 2:30 a.m., as Hurricane, the beautiful, white cat, “comes in with a great gust of wind . . . Is it a moth? Is it a firefly? Hurricane sniffs, but he does not know this smell.” And, as we watch him chase this creature — looking like half satyr, half fairy — through the home, the toys and picture frames and household objects come to life, all in wonder over this uninvited guest. The creature dives in the fish tank, causing a ruckus, as several of the fish fly out of the tank with wings (”Hurricane does not like change! This strangeness makes his ears itch and his fur stand on end”) and generally flits all about. Hurricane scores and catches it between his paws and tries to taste it (”It is sweet!”), but the strong thing gets away. What does it want? the cat wonders. It sees the sleeping baby and hovers over the child, staring in wonder (Hurricane coming to realize this strange thing is a young thing, too), and then flies out the window and “across the road to the shore where a ship waits,” telling his mama that he found the strangest place, as Hurricane and the toys watch them sail away. It’s a wild ride with Declan Lee’s detailed, otherworldly pastel illustrations, stunning and evocative in spots (and calling to mind both Brian Selznick and David Wiesner) yet a bit off in perspective in others: On the one hand, the title page and several of the spreads are almost breathtaking (the title page with a beautiful illustration of the cat’s face up close with this fairy-like creature mysteriously reflected in its eyes — zooming by, that is — and the fish tank spread an offbeat — as in, fish with arms and legs — thing of beauty); on the other hand, Lee’s depictions of the people in the home seem a bit disproportioned on occasion. But, all in all, it’s quite the curious and mysterious adventure, especially since — for many spreads in the beginning — the full appearance of this night creature is not revealed. Children will be perplexed and surprised and perhaps awed — all good things, to be sure. And, in particular, older picture book readers who love the fantasy genre will fall for this one.
by Valeri Gorbachev
Celebrate the arrival of night with this picture book, which celebrates color and celebrates taking the time to marvel in the wonder of something as simple yet glorious as a sunset. It’s by Valeri Gorbachev, and a). I love it and b). it’s like a fresh breath of air.
All the neighbors see Turtle rushing through town, but they don’t know why he is in such a hurry. “I am off to see something red, red, red,” he first tells Mrs. Raccoon, as she’s trimming her red, red roses. She just knows he’s talking about her flowers, but nah. “It’s not your red roses,” he says as he whirs by. He then hurries by Rabbit (with his red watermelon and red cherries and red tomatoes), Goat (with red socks), Fox (painting the roof of his house red), the Beavers at the firehouse, and Captain Dog (with the red at the bottom of his ship and its red smokestack and red life preservers). Everyone falls in line with Turtle, thinking that the red he seeks is what they have. But, no, he keeps forging ahead to this mysterious something red. At the top of the hill, he stops, taking a deep breath, all the animals wondering where the red is. “The red, red, red . . . is coming!” “AHHHHHHHH . . . it’s the sunset . . . the beautiful red sunset,” they see in the vibrant red spread of the huge sun setting before their stunned eyes. And, yes, they stay ’til the yellow moon appears.
The cumulative nature of the tale will both comfort and delight the youngest of listeners, and I’m tellin’ ya, you’ll AHHHHHHHH yourself when you experience not only the ending, but the overall charm of this book. It’s a fine example of an interactive text, since children can locate the red in each spread (as well as formulate their own guesses as to where Turtle is heading). “The pen-and-ink and watercolor pictures are kid-friendly, with the clothes-wearing critters reminiscent of Richard Scarry characters,” wrote School Library Journal (Adrienne, I found it!). This is true, I suppose, when I think about it, but the illustrations are still All Gorbachev All the Time.
This is one of my favorite underdog (as in, not-much-touted thus far) picture books of this year. Call me old-fashioned, but I think one of its many charms — next to the winning narrative, which so delightfully builds anticipation in the child reader, and warm illustrations — is that, shoot fire, not many people stop to be held in the thrall of a sunset anymore in our busy contemporary lives. There. My Grumpy Old Man moment is over. But it’s true.
Just don’t miss Red, Red, Red, ’cause it’s great, great, great.
* “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh