Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sleep Like a Tiger

Bedtime is always a difficult time, and my house is no exception.  There are days when I've done my job well, the girls tumble into bed on time, and I don't hear another word from them until morning.  On the nights that bedtime doesn't work successfully for us, their bedroom seems to have a revolving door.  First it's Frances saying she needs to go to the bathroom, then it's Gloria saying she's thirsty, then Frances is back again to tell me Gloria is reading too loud and keeping her awake.  Finally, Gloria comes slithering back down the hall, silently, wanting to tell me "one more thing".  On the worst nights, they both cry before they fall asleep.  I've mentioned before how one of my favorite programs to do at the library was always bedtime storytime.  I love the cadence of a good bedtime story; how it winds a child down into relaxation and quiet.  It has the capability to turn a bad night around and guide a child into slumber.

I only heard about Sleep Like a Tiger after it won a Caldecott Honor in January.  Once I got it, I was sorry I hadn't been shouting its praises since it had been published.  This book is a terrific bedtime story.  It combines a wise, elegant bedtime story with magical illustrations - a combination dreams are made of.

The story starts with a little girl who doesn't want to go to sleep.  Arms folded, stuffed animals scattered around her, she tells her mother "I'm not tired.".  She tells her father the same thing.  In a united stance, her mother and father nod their heads and tell her while she doesn't have to sleep, she has to put on her pajamas.  And so the little girl does, putting on pajamas "that matched the night sky".  The little girl, still insisting she isn't tired,  then washes her face and brushes her teeth and climbs into bed.  She then, like all procrastinating children, starts up a conversation about the animals of the world and their sleep patterns.  Her parents calmly discuss their dog, their cat, bats, whales, snails, bears and last of all, the mighty tiger.  The little girl informs her parents that the tiger sleeps as much as possible so "that way he stays strong".  They turn out the lights, and the little girl, all tucked in, tells them again that she isn't sleepy.  They say good night, and she relaxes into her bed "a cocoon of sheets, a nest of blankets".  Soon enough, she mimics the way all of those animals fall asleep, and you guessed it - falls asleep.

As a parent, I was struck by a couple of things about this story.  Bedtime is one of the most chaotic times, especially in a working household.  The hours between when we get home and bedtime are filled with "must-dos" - dinner, clean up, baths, stories, bed.  The nights churn by quickly - some nights I look up and realize it's 7:30 and we need to hurry into pajamas and stories.  This story is calm and soothing from the first page.  There is no arguing about bedtime as there is in so many homes.  The parents, who go through the whole routine together, united, simply accept what the little girl says and proceed calmly on.  Because the little girl seems to have control of her bedtime, she goes to sleep more quickly.  She doesn't have to protest very loudly or throw any fits to get her point across.  She is heard and can then acknowledge how comfortable her bed really is.  Her parents, once they get her in bed and turn off the light, tell her "You can stay awake all night long" and leave the room.  They give the little girl space to be herself and enter sleep on her own terms.  In a dark room, surrounded by stuffed animals, and quiet, it doesn't take her long to doze off.  Genius!

This is Logue's first picture book.  Her jacket biography describes her as a poet, and this text is poetic indeed.  While I've already cited several worthy snippets of text, my favorite part is when the little girl gets into bed.  "She did, stretching her toes down under the crisp sheets, lying as still as an otter floating in a stream."  Simple enough for children to understand and related to, but gorgeously described.  After all, I feel that very same way when I get under my own sheets.  Logue has created a story that children can relate to, parents will understand and the words will resonate for all long after the book is closed.

And I haven't even talked about the illustrations yet!  As you know, the Caldecott medal is given each year for illustrations.  So Zagarenski won a Caldecott honor for this book's illustrations.  I loved her other Caldecott honor winning book, Red Sings from Treetops, and was excited that she had won again.  Her style combines computer illustration with mixed media paintings on wood.  It is a magical, whimsical combination, and one that begs to be looked at over and over again.  There are things I've noticed in my repeated readings of this book, and I know there are still more details to be seen.

The colors are soothing - mostly icy blues, golds and browns, with pops of red throughout.  The other pop of color on each page comes from the little girl's clothing - her dress on the first pages is a chalky red which stands out, making the girl easily findable in the busy paintings.  When she changes into her pajamas, which "match the night sky", they are a rich, unusual blue.  There is a white diamond pattern all over the girl's pajamas to mimic the stars, and at points the stars seem to twinkle.  Again, Zagarenski's choice of clothing makes the little girl the focus on every page.

There is so much texture and pattern in Zagarenski's paintings, and the overall effect is one of layered coziness.  This is one of those instances where author and illustrator complement each other perfectly.  These paintings supplement Logue's text and extend it.  One of the little details that add to the text is the fact that that the mother, father, and little girl all wear similar crowns.  Are they a royal family? Maybe, maybe not.  It doesn't really matter, but it is one of those things that adds to your enjoyment of the story.  The little girl carries stuffed animals with her throughout the book, and they mostly include the animals she asks about - the bear, the whale, the dog, and of course, the tiger.  There are details layered upon details in this book.  One of the things I wonder about is Zagarenski's inclusion of wheels on almost every page - sometimes animals ride on wheels, sometimes the wheels serve as decoration.  One of my favorite, whimsical uses of the wheels are under the father's feet in a particular painting.

This book is rich in text and illustration.  The story is immediately recognizable by parent and child alike.  The book is whimsical and realistic at the same time.  All in all, I can't resist saying that this book is dreamy.

Sleep Like a Tiger.  Mary Logue; illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin, 2012.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

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