Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long
Chiro is a very young bat whose mother tells him that it is time for him to head out on a solo flight for the first time. Chiro is very worried about how he will see in the dark, but his mother encourages him to “Sing, and the world will answer.” So Chiro heads out on his own. At first, he tries to fly without singing, but it is too dark. Then when he sings, he suddenly sees in color. Chiro explores and sees all sorts of things through his song. When he gets to the pond and all of its insects, their songs sound like breakfast to him. His mother had warned him not to go too far unless his song was strong. But Chiro is confident and heads out across the pond to see even more of the world through his song.
Berk’s writing is lyrical and lovely. He captures subtleties and beauty in his words, offering insight about what Chiro is seeing through his echolocation. When Chiro uses his song for the first time, Berk writes about it like this: “Tall trees called out to him, chanted the length of their long branches and the girths of their rough trunks.” As you can see, he asks children to reach higher with their language, inviting them to explore like Chiro does.
Long’s illustrations are a study in dark patterns and then bursts of color. Chiro is an exceedingly cute little bat, flying against haunting branches of shadow. When he sings, children will see the world come to life too, strengthened even more by Berk’s language. This is a beautiful book, perfect for a summer pajama story time.
A dark delight of a bat’s life, this book is lush in both language and imagery. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf, illustrated by the Brothers Hilts
When Mrs. Insomniac gets a new job, the family moves 12 time zones to their new home. They had been a regular day-light family, but in the new place they found it hard to stay awake in the day and fall asleep at night. They tried everything from warm milk to meditation, but nothing worked. Looking out of their dark windows, they discovered that there were many nocturnal animals out there. There were bats, bears, and owls. So the family decided to spend their awake time in the darkness. They had breakfast at dusk, grew moonlight cactuses as a garden, studied the stars and attended night school. They are a happy night-time family.
Wolf has created a gorgeous tribute to the wonders of the night here with a delight of a strange family as the lens. There are such lovely little moments like watching “the fishes nipping at the surface of the sea: when the family goes moonbathing. The family adventures out and finds the flower market open and the bakeries bustling. It makes one want to head out in the darkness and see what is happening in your community. There is also a memorable tribute to the dark side of nature and nocturnal animals that removes the scare and makes the entire nighttime welcoming.
The Brothers Hilts’ illustrations glow with the light of the moon and play darkness upon darkness. The entire book is shadowy, but somehow also cheery and dazzling. Darkness is celebrated in all of its black and blue beauty.
A treat of a picture book, this is a quirky winner that will have everyone staying up well past their bedtimes. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young
A ninja moved stealthily through the night in this picture book. The clock struck midnight and the ninja tossed a grapple hook up. He climbed up the sheer wall. He crept down the hallway of the house where everyone was asleep. He hid in the shadows. Then he got out his tools and went to work. Until his mother woke up!
DaCosta’s simple text slowly builds the tension as the ninja moves through the night. The entire book is hushed and the mood brittle with stealth. She playfully leads the reader through thinking that this is a real ninja sneaking into a house until the reveal. It’s a great reveal that works particularly well thanks to Young’s illustrations.
His collage art shows a shadowed ninja figure using expert skill and stealth. At the same time, that cover clues us into the jolly nature of this book. Young’s art is as beautiful as always, using subtle colors to evoke the world of the ninja and the darkness of night. They have the sharp angles of Japanese architecture built into each page too, immediately conjuring another land.
Get ready to have your own little ninja prowling your house after you share this book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
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.
Sweet Dreams by Rose A. Lewis, illustrated by Jen Corace
This quiet bedtime book is the perfect antidote to a busy day. Starting with a mother carrying her daughter up the stairs, the mood is set for a sleepy bedtime. The book moves from that child to the moon and then a sleeping baby bear, a soaking wet tiny mouse, and birds in a nest. Butterflies sleep as moths take wing into the night. Crickets start to sing and other nocturnal animals appear. Then the sun returns and a quiet morning begins with animals starting to rise and eat. The book returns to the bedroom and the child now curled in bed, her walls opening to reveal the wonder of night beyond.
Lewis’ writing is poetry, she conveys the quiet mood beautifully without the book ever becoming dull. Instead it is filled with quiet wonder at the change that happens when darkness falls, the beauty that emerges. She captures moments that invite cuddling up cozily, creating a dreamy glowing world.
Corace’s illustrations help with this as well. Her art here is done with pen, ink and watercolor. She uses delicate lines and deep colors to create this nighttime world. They are filled with moonflowers, a gently smiling moon, and animals that are not anthropomorphized at all.
This book is a joy to read and will be a pleasure to share with your little sleepyhead. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.
Day & Night by Teddy Newton
The Pixar short film that accompanied Toy Story 3 in theaters has been transformed into a picture book. Showing the same style, humor and charm of the film, this book captures the interplay between day and night. Told in short sentences on black paper, the two characters immediately see their differences but through their interaction develop a friendship. In the end, they discover they have a lot more in common than they had thought at first glance. There is a wonderful whimsy about their interaction as they both use their bodies as a canvas for communication. Each shows off the wonders of their time of day. There are parades, rainbows and butterflies for Day. Night responds with fireworks, outdoor movies and fireflies. Told mostly in images, the story will appeal to young and old.
Newton’s illustrations carry this story, infusing it with appeal. The use of the black background makes the characters really pop. This creates a dynamic look and feel for the book. The most effective piece of the book is the ending when day changes to night and night changes to day. When their bodies fit together to create the horizon and to complete the sunset and dawn, it is very visually arresting.
Children who have seen the short film will enjoy this picture book version, but so will children who are looking for a friendly book with inviting illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Mama’s Bayou by Dianne de Las Casas, illustrated by Holly Stone-Barker
Take a sound-filled tour through the bayou as the animals that live there prepare to sleep. Using the repeated phrase of “Mama’s by you on the bayou” the book moves from animal to animal offering the sounds they make. Crickets chirp, frogs slurp, snakes hiss, mosquitoes (skeeters) buzz, and more. Every few pages, there is a double-spread given over just to the accumulated noises of the animals. These small breaks in the pattern of the book keep it from being too rhythmic and also give readers a place to pause and consider the noises of the night.
De Las Casas has written a book that is a lullaby directly from the bayou to you. Her use of repetition is nicely done. Also the cumulative nature of the animal noises makes for a fun read. Stone-Barker’s illustrations are done in cut paper collages. The papers have dimension and texture, offering a depth that is exciting. She also uses deep colors of night very successfully.
A lovely way to celebrate the sounds of the night whether listening to the mosquitoes in the bayou or all the way north in Wisconsin. We do have fewer crocodiles though. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Pelican Publishers.
Whoo Goes There? by Jennifer A. Ericsson, illustrated by Bert Kitchen
Everything was dark and quiet. Owl sat alone on a branch in a tall tree, waiting and watching. Whenever something rustled, thumped or squeaked, Owl wondered, “Whoo goes there?” He hoped it was something just right for his dinner. But each time it was not a fat mouse or squirrel, it was a cat, a skunk or a bat. Finally, Owl knew it WAS a mouse, and he headed into the darkness to try to catch it.
This book based on a simple premise offers more depth than most repetitive stories. Here we see nature in action, tension builds with each creature that isn’t edible, and the ending is perfectly satisfying with a touch of humor. Ericsson’s prose uses the repetition nicely, never becoming sing-songy or dull, but using it instead to create a vivid mood. Combined with Kitchen’s incredibly lifelike illustrations, this book offers a book that will give children a tingle with no real fear. Kitchen’s art is beautifully rendered. He shows the detail of the bark of a tree contrasted with the spines of a porcupine in just one of his masterful images. Each one is a window into nature and into that creature.
Highly recommended, this is an ideal book for story times with toddlers. I would consider it for Halloween story times where the children are a bit young for monster books but want a little thrill still. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Day Is Done by Peter Yarrow, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary wrote this poignant song about the wisdom of children and their ability to lead us. This picture book takes the lyrics of the song and turns it into a book for children that adults will appreciate as well. A variety of animal families are featured in the book including bears, deer, rabbits and raccoons. Sweet’s illustrations explore the connections of families, nature and wonder as her animals live in a forest bedecked in flowers drawn with a child-like hand. Both the song and illustrations combine to create a world of shelter, love and connectivity.
Sweet’s illustrations with their touches of thick crayon and youthful simplicity are deceptive. Looked at closely, they are mixes of collage and watercolor that are expertly combined into a seamless unity. Sweet’s art moves from late afternoon through evening and night, changing from pastels to deeper starlit blues.
A beautiful and accessible version of the beloved song, this book includes a CD with two additional songs. Appropriate for ages 2-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by Jama Rattigan, LadyD Books, and Brimful Curiosities.