Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren
This strange and beautiful picture book is translated from the original Swedish. It is the story of Elsa who discovers the Night underneath her sofa one night just as she is counting the raisins in her cereal. So she tucks the Night into a cake tin and gives him some raisins too. Then she hides the cake tin down in the basement. With the Night trapped, day continues on and one without end. Finally, Elsa takes the Night out of his cake tin and starts to talk about how much she misses her best friend, an elephant named Olaf, who she met after a shipwreck. The explains how the two of them lived together and that now he is gone. About how she then moved to a lighthouse and stayed awake in the light night after night and has not slept for 30 years. The Night listens and then goes with her to visit Olaf’s grave and finally to lift her up and take her to her bed to sleep.
Filled with poetry, the text in this book is powerful. The story winds around, moving from the trapping of night into Elsa’s story of loss and finally to resolution. It is not linear, but an exploration of emotions and grief. It is a journey that is glowing, gentle and filled with lovely moments. In particular when the Night goes around and gathers up the sleepy people along with Elsa, there is such tenderness and love in that moment.
Mellgren’s art is modern and filled with bold graphical elements. The cut paper art is complex at times and simple in others, playing with light and dark as well as different shapes. the way that Night changes the page as he enters it is beautifully handled, his darkness spilling around him but able to be seen right through.
This unique story is luminous and impressive and will make a great bedtime story for children and parents who enjoy foreign picture books that aren’t the normal bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Daytime Nighttime by William Low
A simple and lovely introduction to the creatures that children can see around their houses in both day and night. The book starts with daytime and the question “What do you see in the daytime?” The large images throughout show animals like butterflies, rabbits, beavers, and more. In the middle of the book, a new question is posed about the nighttime. Now the animals shown are bats, frogs, fireflies and raccoons. The book ends with the final animal, a teddy bear held by a little girl as she falls asleep in bed.
Ideal for toddlers, this book only has two full sentences and the rest of the text are single words that identify the animal on the page. Adults can make it into a game where the child names the animal on the page. The illustrations of the animals are large and vibrant. They capture the feel of light and dark in a way has elements of both a photograph and a painting.
A great pick for bedtime reading, this book will be enjoyed by very small animal lovers. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
Released August 12, 2014.
The author of the fantastic Inside Outside returns with another wordless book featuring the same little boy. Here the boy is outside in a tent at night and uses his flashlight to explore. As he moves around, his flashlight shows white and color against the deep black and greys of the rest of the scene. He locates his lost yellow boot, finds different animals out at night, sees plants and fish, and finds an apple to eat. But then he trips and his flashlight goes flying until it is found by a raccoon who uses it to show the boy himself in the beam. Then all of the animals get a turn with the flashlight until they lead the boy back to his tent.
I adore this book. It is so simple with the pitch blackness of the page, the grey lines that show the characters and nature, and then that surprising and revealing beam of light that cuts a swath through the darkness. One reason it works so well is that the rest of the page is not complete darkness, instead you get a feel of the woods around and the animals, but when the light does shine on them even more is shown.
Boyd uses small cutouts on the page to great effect. They reveal dens, flowers, small touches. In their own subtle way, they too shine a light of attention on even smaller components of the illustrations. They are a subtle but important part of the book.
Beautiful, dark and mysterious, this picture book is a wordless story of exploration and wonder. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
The Midnight Library only opens at night. Then a little librarian and her three owl assistants help all sorts of animals find the right books. The library was quiet and peaceful until a band of squirrels showed up looking for a place to practice. Luckily, the library had an activity room where they could play music without disturbing anyone else. It was quiet again until it started to rain, but it was raining inside the library. It was Mrs. Wolf crying about something she read in a book. The librarian and her assistants helped her finish the story and reach the happy ending. Finally, it was time to close for the night and there was one very slow patron who would not leave, but the little librarian solved that situation happily too. This is a clever and creative look at libraries and their services in a way that children will easily relate to.
Kohara is author of several other picture books all done in her signature style. Here she cleverly takes a library and adds mystery by making it open at night. The addition of animals as patrons also creates an interesting twist. I also appreciated a library being depicted as a place that you can play music. So often the focus is on the quiet and solitude, but this is one happening library!
Kohara uses the colors on the cover of the book throughout the story. The deep blues and blacks are enlivened by the bright yellow-orange that forms most of the background. Her use of printmaking techniques creates thick lines with an organic dappling effect. These prints feel like woodblocks but have lines that swirl and curve unlike most block prints.
Clever, lively and great fun, this picture book is perfect for sleepy library fans. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown
A new collection of previously unpublished poems from the master Margaret Wise Brown are illustrated here by twelve different illustrators. According to the introduction by Amy Gary, the editor of the Margaret Wise Brown Estate, these poems were part of a trunk of unpublished manuscripts that Margaret’s sister had in her barn. They reflect the interest that Margaret developed towards the end of her life in creating music for children. The book is accompanied by a music CD that brings the poems into song. This book is just as enjoyable as a song book or a poetry book, make sure to try it out both ways!
Brown’s poems are simple and lovely. Some of them read like nursery rhymes with plenty of repetition of phrase and style. Others are a bit looser but still musical even as words. She created small worlds in each song, offering lovely gems of moments in each one. I have a handful of top favorites from the book: “The Mouse’s Prayer” which is a beautiful wintry poem, “Wooden Town” that evokes a childhood joy of creating a little world of blocks, and “The Secret Song” which is a question and answer poem that is quiet and lonely.
The twelve illustrators make up some of the top illustrators in today’s picture books. There is a great pleasure in turning the page and seeing an entirely different feel with the next poem. Some are bright and sunny, others deep colored like the night, and still others filled with snow. The styles reflect each of the illustrators and as a whole the book works extremely well, giving each poem a distinct note of its own on the page.
A top pick for children’s poetry, these songs are a dazzling collection from a very talented writer. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain, illustrated by Nikki McClure
Quiet and lovely, this is a picture book version of the lullaby by indie rock band Cub Country. That song is haunting and beautiful with its slow pace. This book is much the same. The lyrics to the song read as a poem on the page, one that takes a child on a journey of dreams before returning back home again. It is a book designed for reading at bedtime in the same soothing pace as the song.
McClure’s cut paper art adds to the beauty of the book. Done entirely in blues and whites, the book invites children to twilight and darkness. Throughout the book the night is celebrated in its beauty, from the moon on the sea to the the owl winging past. There is a sense both in the poem and the art that you are seeing into the secrets of the evening.
A gorgeous new version of a song, this book is ideal for bedtime reading and dreaming. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.
Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai
When Hannah woke up one day, she was surprised to find that it was still night. She tried to wake up her older sister, but she would not wake up. So Hannah headed downstairs with Shiro the cat. She checked on her parents and they were asleep too. Hannah gave Shiro some milk, ate some cherries right from the refrigerator, and no one scolded her. When Hannah returned to her bedroom, she checked again on her sister. Then she borrowed her sister’s doll, her music box, and her art supplies and played with them on her bed. As dawn arrives, Hannah gets sleepy again and falls back asleep.
Sakai has created a beautiful little book filled with the glow of the moon and the delight of the night. What is done best here is the lack of drama or danger. Instead it is a story of small mischiefs and safety. The stealing out of bed itself is enough to drive the story forward and keeps the book moving yet doesn’t make it scary or frightening at all. The matter-of-fact tone of the writing also adds to the peaceful feel of the book.
Sakai’s art is rich and textured. Layered and filled with the blues of night, the images have a radiant delicacy. The combination of rough edges and the detail of sleepy eyelashes create a book that is beautiful to look at as well as a pleasure to share aloud.
A nighttime story, this is one bedtime story that may not keep little wanderers in bed but is worth sharing all the same. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Who Goes There? by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Anna Currey
On this bitter cold day in Wisconsin, it’s a treat to review a book that has a little mouse preparing for the winter cold. Lewis lived alone in the base of a tall tree. He prepared for winter by stuffing his home with leaves, twigs and grass. Once he was cozy inside though he realized that something was missing. Then he heard a noise that wasn’t the wind. It was a scratching and tapping noise. Lewis shouted “Who goes there!” but no one answered. Could it be a cat? An owl? A bear? As the noise repeated, Lewis continued to yell. Eventually, he was out in the wind and night investigating the sounds. Lewis will discover not only what is making the sound but exactly what he is missing too.
Wilson, author of the very popular Bear Snores On series, has another winning animal character. Lewis is a gutsy little mouse who shouts at strange noises and then investigates them despite his fears. Wilson uses lots of repetition here, making it perfect for sharing aloud. The noises always have the same pattern of sounds and Lewis always shouts back the same reply. This helps build tension in the story as well, just enough for little ones to be fully engrossed in the tale.
Currey’s illustrations have a great play of contrasts between the warm light of Lewis’ hole filled with tiny furniture and nuts and the wild blue of the outside at night. Both are equally lovely, the browns and golds of Lewis’ home shine while the deep blues of the outside glimmer with moonlight.
A perfect bedtime read for a cold day, this book is also a great choice for autumn story times. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Moonday by Adam Rex
This luminous picture book answers the question about what would happen if the moon lowered itself into your backyard. The boy in the story finds the moon so slow in his yard that he can not just touch it, but climb around on it and into its craters. The rest of the world though, stayed dark as night. The children had to go to school in the darkness and everyone was tired. Back home, they tried to hide the moon under tablecloths and blankets. But then the tide entered their yard and the dogs gathered to howl at the moon too. So the family took the moon for a drive and it followed their car until they went to the top of a big hill and it got caught in the tops of the trees. They asked it to stay there, and there it hung, once more high in the air.
This is a treat of a picture book. It doesn’t just ask the question about what would happen if the moon dropped into your yard, but it also finds a solution that is satisfying and beautiful. I loved that the story is bookended by the drive in the car where the moon followed them home and then another drive where they returned it to the sky. The entire book has a sense of wonder about it, but also a great foundation of practicality and humor.
Rex’s art glows on the page. The moon is bright and round, filling every page it appears on with a white, wintry glow. The other pages show the darkness which makes the moon all that much brighter when it appears. The moon covered with tablecloths and blankets is not dimmer at all, just lightly patterned.
Magical and beautiful, this book is dreamlike and special. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dusk by Uri Shulevitz
On a snowy December evening, a boy, his dog, and grandfather talk a walk. They stop to watch the sun sink over the river and then they head into the city. There people are in a great hurry. There are people shopping for gifts for their children, others heading home to feed their cats, and even an alien speaking its own language. As darkness falls, the lights in the city start to turn on. First just a few, then more, and finally the boy and grandfather are downtown near the large shop windows and it is revealed that this is a holiday book with different windows celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa.
It took until that final reveal to realize that I was reading a holiday book, and that is a wonderful thing. Instead of centering on the holidays, this book is about quiet moments and time spent together just looking at the changing light in the sky and in the city. The text is so simple, then becomes dancing complexity when the people start to talk, then returns to the simplicity again. Readers will be jolted by the change, just as if their own quiet walk at dusk was interrupted.
Shulevitz’s art is so beautiful. He captures the setting sun with colors that will make readers linger alongside the characters in the book. He plays throughout the book with shadows, light and darkness. As the lights come on in the book, the light is warm against the winter darkness and pools in liquid on the ground. In the reveal of the holiday windows, the illustrations become detailed and honeyed. Again, a place to linger and bask in that holiday mood.
A top holiday pick, this book is a lovely companion to Snow and stands on its own too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.