Sleep, the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are rested (Merriam-Webster), sometimes eludes those who crave it, comes to those who wish for a little more awake time and is rarely on the immediate agenda of a little boy or girl, unless they're too pooped to protest. Depending on the little bits and pieces of everyone's day, now brought together, bedtime is either frustrating or a golden opportunity for parents and their children. The ritual of reading or telling a story when all else has quieted, once begun, lasts a lifetime.
My little one, lay down your head.
It's time to doze, it's time for bed.
You tell me, "I'm not sleepy now."
"Just try," I say. You ask me, "How?"
With the heart of a true storyteller a mother weaves words to invite her child to sleep. Beginning with antelope all the way to zebra she creates a picture of each settling into repose. Sometimes the animals are alone, with siblings, a parent or in a family group.
Her tale travels from grassy plains to barnyards to a cozy couch to leafy jungles to sandy deserts to forest floors, gardens, treetops, still pond waters, expansive oceans or up to the Arctic. Floating across continents like a magical feather in flight much ground is covered in a single night. As her story draws to a close, she suggests to her child, like the creatures in her story, would not sleep be a good thing now?
Crescent Dragonwagon opens and closes her book with a series of gentle, rhyming couplets. As each animal, or sometimes more, is mentioned she shifts to an alliterative phrase describing how each finds a perfect place to pause. By using this technique she nicely separates the stories within the story of a child not quite ready to call it a day.
Fox, fading fast,
finds rest in the forest,
while frog just floats, letting her feet flop
until they find firm footing near the ferns.
The cover art is a thing of beauty, worthy of framing; as are many of the watercolor and ink illustrations drawn and painted by David McPhail in this volume. When the jacket is removed readers discover a new visual, taken from within the book's pages, spanning the front and back showing a large pond with nearly all the animals, quiet and sleeping, around the edge. The deep, rich blue on the jacket covers both the beginning and closing endpapers.
Turning to the title page a small circular picture sits beneath the words showing the backs of several animals peering into the child's glowing bedroom window. At the turn of page some are entering the room, more come in through the door, watching and waiting. As the mother speaks each animal receives a single page with a fine, scrolled capital letter blended well with the overall piece. When more than one creature is described two pages are used spreading across the gutter from one scene to another, merging seamlessly. A wide range of colors in muted shades clearly conveys a sense of peace as the setting sun or rising moon does the time of day.
With illustrations softly radiant by David McPhail wrapping around the lovely, lullaby-like language of Crescent Dragonwagon, All the Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep welcomes readers to snuggle in, relax and listen. Certainly a treasure for bedtime or for a quiet break during the day but the potential for introducing the alphabet, a variety of animals in their habitats or the use of alliteration is there. I am happily adding this title to my personal shelves, recommending it for school collections and as a gift for children.