Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
This glimmering book takes a lingering and loving look at a Canadian winter night. It starts just before the snow begins to fall, one flake then more. Then the ground is covered with a snowy blanket, a blanket just like the one you are sleeping under. The book goes on to talk about the beauty of the winter forest, snow that will dust your head and nose as you pass under the trees. Animals appear; the deer munch on the frozen apples, a great gray owl silently drifts by, rabbits scamper only going still when the fox walks past. The book continues to talk about the beauty of the snow once the sky clears, the patterns of frost on window panes. It ends with the dazzle of the snowy morning.
As a native of Wisconsin, this Canadian import speaks directly to my love of winter evenings, nights and days. This lullaby of a book opens each poetic stanza with “Once upon a northern night…” and then leads into another beautiful wonder that is present there. Northern readers will see their own love reflected here, others will start to understand the beauty and exquisite nature of winter. Pendziwol plays with imagery and truly finds the wonder in each moment she captures. It is pure beauty, glittery as snow but oh so much warmer.
Arsenault’s illustrations are done in nighttime sepia tones, the color drained away except for pops of frozen apples, owl eyes, fox orange and deep night sky blues. The snow itself makes up much of the images, dancing in the air, covering branches, capturing footprints. One can almost feel the coldness seep from the page. Then there is the final page with morning arriving that is suddenly color and ends the book just perfectly with its icy shimmer.
This picture book is perfect for a bedtime story curled up near the fire or under toasty warm blankets as the snow falls. It is a quiet and lovely book, one to treasure and share. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
The author/illustrator team that brought you the bestselling Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site returns with another gorgeous transportation-themed bedtime book. The cheerful rhyme invites children to explore the different types of train cars and what sorts of items are stowed in each one. This is done by a monkey crew who move monkey bars into the boxcars with tumbling moves and lots of bananas. The hopper car is filled with bouncy balls by kangaroos and a helpful giraffe. Elephants squirt paints into tankers with their trunks, each train car a different color. The cold reefer car holds ice cream treats as well as polar bears and penguins. Gondolas are filled with sand, beach balls and toys. The autorack has lots of fast racecars. The well cars have dinosaurs and their lunches. Finally there are the flatbeds made into beds and the red caboose, the train heads off to a new day.
First let me comment on the endpages which are done in train engineer cloth pattern and really invite young train enthusiasts to read on. The book has that wonderful rhyme that is playful and youthful, dancing along merrily to the beat. That sense of play is evident throughout the book, as the different animals load the train with things that will interest very young readers. All of it has a silly tone that makes it great fun to read.
Lichtenheld’s illustrations add to that silliness with small touches that are such fun to discover. Done in a soft yet rich style, the illustrations invite you to dream along with the book. Their deep color captures the nighttime setting while the softness will have little heads snuggling in close.
A worthy companion to the first book, get this into the hands of little engineers and fans of Thomas the Tank Engine. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Again! by Emily Gravett
It’s nearly bedtime and that means a bedtime story. Mama dragon and little dragon curl up together to share the story of the bright, red dragon Cedric who has never gone to bed. When they finish, the little dragon asks for it “Again?” Mama dragon agrees and readers will see another full page of the book that tells more about Cedric and his not sleeping. Mama reads it one more time before falling asleep herself. Readers will notice the little dragon getting redder and redder just as Cedric in the story is turning back to green. But this little dragon has a burning desire for one more story that leads to a fiery ending.
Gravett cleverly reaves two parallel stories together here. There is the main story of the little dragon who wants to be read to over and over again. Then there is the story of Cedric in the book that Mama dragon reads. The two play off of one another, with tension in one ebbing as the other picks up.
The art is just as clever. Towards the end, the little dragon shakes the book in disgust and the characters take a tumble across the pages. This leads to the surprise of the ending, which is sure to delight young readers.
A perfect ending for a story time, this book is one that young children (and dragons) will want to read AGAIN! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
This is the story of a little girl who just wasn’t sleepy at bedtime. Her parents agreed that she didn’t have to head right to bed, but she did have to put on her pajamas. Then she had to wash her face, and that felt good. She climbed into bed, because she loved the feeling of the sheets. Then she asked about whether everything in the world sleeps. Her parents explain that yes, like the dog being asleep on the couch where he shouldn’t be. The book turns to explain about different animals and how they sleep from the upside down bats to floating whales to hibernating bears. After talking, her parents let her stay awake in her bed. The little girl begins to sleep like each of the animals, curling up like the dog, folding her arms like bat wings, finding the warmest spot like a cat. Until finally, she is asleep like the strong tiger.
Oh what a bedtime story! I had heard great things about this book and at first saw beautiful illustrations and a fairly normal story, but that changes and becomes something very special. Once the little girl is in bed and talking about the animals, the language becomes more poetic and filled with imagery. It is warm, cozy and infinitely inviting.
Zagarenski’s illustrations have a richness about them that enhances this bedtime tale. Thanks to the golden crowns, they have an illuminated manuscript feel. There is plenty of texture and pattern, but also a modern zing to the illustrations. They are entirely winning.
This glorious bedtime story is a real treat to read aloud. Get your own jammies on and cuddle up, I promise you will be dozing in no time, just like a tiger. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Tell Me about Your Day Today by Mem Fox, illustrated by Lauren Stringer
This is the story of a little boy who looked forward to bedtime. He loved the kisses, the stories, the good night. But most of all he loved the conversations he had with his stuffed animal friends. Each of them took a turn telling about what happened during their day: “the who, the what, the why, and the way… the whole wild thing…turned out okay.” As each character describes their day, it is told solely in pictures with the refrain above as the only words. And each one builds on the last, creating a picture of a complete day together. Then the little boy went last, describing his day and filling out the last of their day spent together.
This is such a warm and friendly book. While it may be unusual for a child to look forward to bedtime, it’s great to have a book that celebrates that part of the day so fully. Even better, it’s a celebration of a very busy day spent in wonderful play. Fox’s use of a repeating refrain in each character’s story makes for a book that is gentle and reassuring.
Stringer’s illustrations tell a lot of the story. Each character had a slightly different day, told from their point of view. When the boy’s part comes, they all reach a cohesive whole. Stringer’s art is done in bright and warm colors, with the deep blues of night a welcome part of the book. The characters glow on the page, some even seeing to shine light themselves.
What a great bedtime read! This book is best shared with your own stuffed friends gathered around and listening too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
The Bear in the Book by Kate Banks, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
A little boy sits in bed reading a book with his mother. It’s a book about a bear getting ready to sleep for the winter. The boy and his mother share the story together, talking about the pictures and the bear. The bear eats and eats, getting ready to hibernate until he finally curls up and falls asleep. Then the snow comes, and the little boy can almost feel the cold from the page of the book. He looks closely at the pictures and finds hidden animals in the snowy landscape. The snow continues and the boy snuggles in closer, the bear sleeps on. As spring nears, the boy gets sleepy. Just as the bear is about to wake up, the boy falls asleep for the night. Now it’s his turn to sleep long and deep in a cozy bed.
This book is pure joy. It celebrates both the written word and the art of the picture book. Even more so though, it celebrates the connection built by sharing a book right before bed. Just as the boy could feel the winter emanating from the page, here you can feel the warmth and coziness. With my librarian hat on, I am delighted to see a book that models what reading aloud to a small child should look like. There should be conversations about the pictures, questions and answers about what is happening in the story, looking at the colors on the page, finding hidden animals, and much more activity than simply reading a story aloud.
Hallensleben’s illustrations have a gorgeous rough texture to them. The paint is lovely and thick, resulting in rich colors that add to that feeling of warmth and home. They also bridge the connection between the book and the family reading together, flowing seamlessly back and forth, uniting as an entire story.
Highly recommended, this is a book that will have you curled up and sharing it with your own little one immediately. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere
Do you think that if monsters really exist that there might be a monster out there licking his lips and thinking about YOU? And what if that monster is coming to find you? Riding his bicycle through a dark forest on his way? What if he is thinking about what you might taste like with ketchup as he wades through the gloopy swamp? What if he thinks about you on toast while tiptoeing through thorns? He’s getting closer and closer… you aren’t scared are you? Are you?
Filled with great noises and ways to get little hearts pitter-patting, this book is an impressive read aloud. Vere paces the book just like a traditional campfire tale, it’s the build up that makes the entire thing work along with the fact that this monster is headed for you!
Vere’s silly artwork provides a lightening effect that will get kids giggling despite the tension of the story. There are also softening hints throughout like the teddy bear, the bicycle with a bell, and even the pink toenails that make this monster more friendly than frightening.
Pair this one with A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown for some sinister stories that end well. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lucy Can’t Sleep by Amy Schwartz
Lucy is in bed, but she just can’t fall asleep. First, she tries counting sheep and other animals, but that doesn’t work. So she climbs out of bed, puts on a sweater, stretches and wiggles. Then she heads out of her room to try and find her doll and bear. There they are in a chair downstairs. Lucy then heads to the kitchen and rummages in the fridge for a snack. She finds chocolate pudding and strawberry shortcake. Everything is very quiet in her house. Outside there is a squeaky door, a porch swing, and a radio playing. Then Lucy’s dog appears and they head inside. But Lucy isn’t quite ready for bed yet.
There is something old-fashioned and infinitely gentle about this book. Lucy’s parents never awaken to find her out of bed, instead she putters around on her own with no fear of the dark, of the quiet or of being alone. There is a great feeling of safety in this book with nothing startling or alarming in the least. It is a welcome difference from many picture books.
Schwartz’s writing is done in stanzas with repetition and rhythm making it into a poem. This makes it a great book for toddlers. Her art is filled with small details of Lucy’s life and home. It is all about warmth, familiarity and the small touches that mark a family’s life.
Safe, sweet nighttime adventures will have young listeners enjoying Lucy and her escapades out of bed. It will also make a nice addition to bedtime stories and story times. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Lala Salama by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
This poetic lullaby transports readers to Tanzania and life by the lake, Tanganyika. It is the story of a small family with a father who heads off to work on the lake in his boat. The mother stays on the shore with her baby, washing the baby, carrying water, working the fields, and cooking food. The animals of Tanzania are around them in all of their exotic beauty. Then as the sun sets, the father returns spend time with his family and eventually sails off to the lake again. The mother and baby sit on the shore, watching the night and the lights on the boats. This picture book is beautifully foreign, tremendously tranquil, and has a lushness that is exquisite.
MacLachlan’s writing is pure poetry. It has a great hushed quality to it throughout the entire story of the day. She also deftly weaves in references to Tanzania, creating such a solid sense of place that this story could never be anywhere else in the world. She references the colors of the sky, the roofs, and the lake. She speaks of the hard work, and at the end of each stanza comes the refrain: “Lala salama.” There is also a deep sense of love throughout the work, wrapping all of the poetry with motherly adoration.
Zunon’s illustrations carry the same lushness as the poetry. Done in oil paint on watercolor paper, they have a deep color palette that becomes even more deep and dazzling as night falls. It almost shines with light at times, then seems to drink the light from the room. Beautiful.
A lush, poetic lullaby of a picture book, this makes a great diverse addition to bedtime reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.