Like a beloved lullaby there are favorite bedtime books. The combination of words and illustrations sing to a sleepy soul. Each phrase is a melody gently wrapping around the reader or listener. These books are as important to a good night's sleep as a fluffed pillow, a cuddly stuffed toy or a soft blanket.
If you walk into a bedroom, next to the bed on a shelf or nightstand, they will be stacked in a place of honor. Sleep Train (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, April 3, 2018) written by Jonathan London with illustrations by Lauren Eldridge is one of those special titles. As an engine pulls the cars down the track, a reader begins a ritual sure to lead to slumber.
Jiggling down that track.
Ten sleepy cars
Our narrator, a boy reading this book, states with the assurance of someone who has read these lines multiple times; one of the cars is his car. One by one he names the cars and gives them a number. First and second are the tender and the boxcar. They are attached to cars numbering three and four. Each of them has a specific use.
As the train rolls through the countryside the sounds of cows mingling with the sounds of the train make a tune all their own. Two more cars, a hopper and a gondola, are recognized by the reader. One has a color so brilliant, it's worth noting.
With eagerness numbers seven, eight and nine are listed. All those sleepy cars are followed by the caboose,
a moonlit red.
Where is the reader? Is he in number ten? Yes, he is!
He's in a particular place for those numbering the cars of a Sleep Train. He counts and he counts, getting sleepier and sleepier. Good night.
No stranger to appealing text for the intended audience, Jonathan London (the Froggy series) sends a soothing note to readers with his first three phrases. His rhyming rhythm recreates the swaying of a train as it moves down a track. It gently lulls us. The repetition of key words enhances the peaceful cadence. He also gives readers practice in counting from one to ten as well as acquainting them with the names of cars which can be found between the engine and caboose. Here is a passage.
There's a flatbed car (that makes seven!)
and a coach with seats.
And there's a dining car
where everybody eats.
Now so far . . .
that makes nine---
nine sleepy cars
rocking down that line.
When readers open the matching dust jacket and book case on Sleep Train they see spread before them a glorious nighttime sky replete with stars, a shimmering cloud of smoke from the engine's stack highlighting the dimensional title text. When your eyes move to the left, on the back, the remainder of the cars and the caboose stretch behind. A full moon hangs in the sky to light the tracks, train and waving prairie grasses. The color palette here, and throughout the book, is rich with hues of blue, purple and red as the sun sets, dusk begins and darkness descends.
The opening and closing endpapers are a muted rose in two shades. A pattern of tiny stars cover the background. The title page features the narrator, a boy, snuggled with his toy rabbit on his bed and holding this book. Through his window we can see city buildings. The dedication and verso pages showcase an image stepping back, giving us a larger view of his room. Lauren Eldridge, illustrator, has tucked some wonderful Easter eggs in this scene. Be sure to look at the child's bookshelf.
In an informative paragraph Lauren talks about how the illustrations were meticulously created by hand using such materials such as cardboard, paper, plaster cloth, acrylic paint, polymer clay, wire, wood, and acrylic eyeballs. The boy's pajamas were hand sewn. She goes on to say:
Each environment is composed largely of household items, including an upside-down patio table, faux fur, Dixie cups, and washers. The images were shot with a Nikon D7200 35mm and 10-24mm wide angle, and digitally manipulated.
All the illustrators span two pages, page edge to page edge. We, like the boy and the train, are on a journey. Each setting is photographic in detail. Birds fly across a sky gorgeous with the setting sun. Cows rest and graze next to the train tracks. A station master lifts a hand as the train travels past. Each of the cars bears their correct number. When we see the child in his car on the train, it's a blend of reality and a dream world. The final single page image is like a sigh.
One of my many favorite pictures is of the train passing by an old grain elevator. The elevator is set slightly to the left of the center on the right side. The perspective moves closer to the engine on the left with cars numbering one, two, three, four and five getting smaller and smaller as they pass by the elevator. A group of birds soars in the sky as if following the train as it makes its nightly trip. The sky is shown in shades of blue, pale purple, pink and orange. It literally glows.
Whether used with other counting books, titles about trains or a treasure to be tucked among other bedtime books, Sleep Train written by Jonathan London with illustrations created by Lauren Eldridge is a marvelous ode for all those seeking sleep. The illustrations elevate the lilt of the text; together they are a tune to remember. I can't imagine a professional or personal collection without this title.
To learn more about Jonathan London and Lauren Eldridge and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. You will want to read the interview of Lauren at Brightly. It contains information about her process. She also chats about this book and her art at Publishers Weekly. Lauren has an account on Twitter and Instagram.