Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, October 22, 2012

In The Dead of Night

Just a little over a month ago, the second year of Calling Caldecott, a blog devoted to discussion about possible Caldecott Medal and Honor worthy books, was reopened..  This blog is hosted by Robin Smith, a second grade teacher at Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee, who is also a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book and has served on numerous award committees including the Caldecott.  Her partner in this endeavor is Lolly Robinson, designer and production manager for The Horn Book, who has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees.

Of the twenty-one books on their initial discussion list (linked above) I had not read six.  Of these six is the book titled The Insomniacs (G. P. Putnam's Sons) written by debut author, Karina Wolf, with illustrations by The Brothers Hilts.  Every single one of us has had sleepless nights.  But how many of us are like these three?

The Insomniacs weren't always a night family.

Indeed, most people are not night families.  An ocean voyage across twelve time zones not only means a job change for Mrs. Insomniac but a whole new opportunity awaits.  It would seem their bodies are not adapting to the switch in location.

Mother, Father and Mika can hardly make it through the day without nodding off but come night--they are wide awake.  Each has their own remedies for inducing slumber; none of which seem to work.  A group huddle, a brainstorming session, has them looking to area animals for answers.

Into the darkness they go in search of the one creature who sleeps the longest, a bear.  Approaching the hibernator haven all they discover are...bats; lots and lots of bats.  When the swirling and swooping masses have passed, pausing to look around, the Insomniacs are amazed to see busy nocturnal beings; activity abounds.

This, they believe, will do nicely.  Dusk will be their dawn.  Dawn will be their dusk.

A stroll through the moonlight along the shadowy sea, fragrant flowers, fresh baked goods and silence are the well-earned rewards after each works the nights away.  Do they miss the sun?   When you have stars and fireflies and northern lights would you?

With the first sentence, first time picture book author, Karina Wolf, draws readers into the world of the Insomniacs.  Immediately your mind is filled with questions which she answers sentence by sentence, paying attention to atmosphere.  It is easy to get the sense that Wolf likes playing with words as some of her phrases roll with a slightly alliterative rhythm.

All her drowsy definitive words evoke a state of wakefulness and barely awake depending on the hour.  Her characters, Mother, Father and Mika respect one another, chatting, musing, thinking of possibilities.  It is in their openness one finds the delight in darkness.  Here are a couple of phrases.

Mother dragged herself to work and nodded at her desk.
Father took pictures at his studio and then took forty winks.

The cloud of animals roused and rushed into the night.

Ben Hilts and Sean Hilts, The Brothers Hilts, using pencil, charcoal and a computer, have illustrated their first children's book.  Steely, midnight blue endpapers with scattered stars set the stage.  The title page background is a dusty, tiny, floral print wallpaper with an oval framed family portrait of the Insomniacs hanging from the "M".

The first sentence sits exactly in the middle of a faded golden cityscape with a train of cars along the bottom heading into the gutter; a thin dotted line extending to the car of our characters. On the right side are six small studies of the family during their day.  This pattern is used throughout the book, double page spread, single pages and small groupings to enhance and emphasize the narrative.  The text placement is varied, becoming part of the design.

Golden yellow, spots of red, green and turquoise, rusts and browns, blues and blacks, all muted, lend to the quiet, the shift to a life in the night.  Their depiction of Father as a shorter (whose head is nearly egg-shaped) man, a photographer, next to Mother, tall, thin, a student of astronomy with short-haired, wide-eyed, Mika in her striped dress, is utterly wonderful.  Details on every turn of page invite repeated viewings.  One of my favorite pages is a tongue-in-groove wooden wall background, old fashioned single light bulb hanging down from the page top, illuminating two lines with five photographs clipped to them. These photographs illustrate the family's evening occupations as described on the opposite page, except for the last one...Mother and Mika dancing beneath a crescent moon...along with an aardvark and bear dancing too.

To be a member of The Insomniacs written by Karina Wolf with illustrations by The Brothers Hilts would indeed be a great adventure.  The attraction of living the opposite is stunning and strong.  I now know why this title is on the list; both words and pictures embrace individuality in simultaneous beauty.

For more on both the author and illustrators view their website links embedded in their names above. This is the official book trailer.

 I also thought it might be fun to read it another time playing this video in the background or on a whiteboard.

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