Friday, July 13, 2007

Nighty night

For my inaugural review, I thought it would be appropriate to select a book that deals with the theme of going to bed. This is a category that has some heavyweights in its corner already (Goodnight Moon is the most obvious example) and clearly continues to be a popular topic for children’s book authors. I wanted to see what new titles were out there that might make for worthy additions to the genre.

Since I am the non-professional of the two of us, I made my selections in a very non-scientific manner: I looked through the “new picture books” shelves at my (tiny) local library and leafed through those that had something to do with sleep or night in the title. I'm sure that my sister will have one or two things to say about this method, but I imagine that is how many parents select books for their kids---without the benefit of reviews or lists or recommendations.

Of the books that I selected, the one I most enjoyed was When Sheep Sleep, by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by David McPhail (New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006).

Laura Numeroff is the author of the best-selling If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which was one of my sister’s all-time favorites as a little girl. This book has the same sense of each page building on the previous one. In Mouse, each action opened a new can of worms (if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want a glass of milk). In When Sheep Sleep, each page presents a new possible answer to the question hinted at in the title: what to do when the sheep (so useful for counting at bedtime) are already asleep?

On the first page, a little girl and her teddy bear lie awake in bed, unable to sleep. The text suggests, “When you can’t fall asleep,/Then try counting sheep!” Unfortunately, the sheep are themselves already slumbering at the foot of her bed. The text (written in rhyming verse) then suggests other animals that one could count, yet they too are all asleep. In the end, the very act of counting is enough to tire the pair out, and they fall asleep, surrounded by the various animals depicted on the previous pages.

The rhyme is gentle and often repetitive, creating a soothing rhythm perfect for helping a child settle into a quiet pre-bedtime mood. This is assisted by David McPhail’s soft pen and watercolor illustrations, which depict the animals (even pigs in their muddy pen) as soft and cuddly. As the story begins, we see that the little girl (in an adorable purple footed pajama) is playing with a variety of small stuffed animals; in the following pages, she (along with her now-animated teddy bear) is transported outside to view the same animals sleeping in their natural habitats. I didn’t notice the connection between the stuffed animals and the “real” sleeping animals during my first read-through, but it’s details like this that will allow for new discoveries during multiple readings.

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