Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Rest . . . Assured

Sometimes it escapes us.  Other times it's all we want to do. Nevertheless, we wake each morning, grateful, but also wondering why the night, our time of rest, passes so quickly.  In those hours of slumber our brains are busy helping us.  During our sleep we dream; at times some fragments are remembered or perhaps whole stories unfold.  We humans need sleep, but we are not alone in this need.

Other residents of this planet, Earth, sleep.  A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals (Running Press Kids, Hachette Book Group, November 5, 2019) written by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Jennifer M. Potter explores through poetry, informational text and eloquent images forms of sleep in eighteen animals living in water, on land and in the air. For them sleep is as distinctive as they are.

A Note from the Author
Did you know humans are able to survive longer without food than they can without sleep?

In this one-page informative note from the author, a discussion of sleep piques our interest with fascinating facts.  We find ourselves hardly able to wait to turn the page.  When we do, we are astounded.

Sperm whales we are told sleep vertically; sometimes tail up, sometimes tail down.  They do this, at most, sixty-five feet below the water's surface.  On land in the nearly treeless savannah, giraffes prefer to sleep standing up.  Their naps, no longer than eleven minutes, are key to surviving their predators.  And speaking of their predators, the sleeping habits of male, female and young lions are different.  They are dictated by bugs, buffalo and roles in their society.

Brave are the sea otters who sleep on the water, holding hands to stay together.  Did you know ocelots are crepuscular?  Do you know the definition of crepuscular?  It's safe to say spiny dogfish sharks sleep as they swim.  If they stop swimming, they are unable to breathe.  You won't believe how they navigate!

The next time you see mallard ducks resting in a row, notice the ones on either end.  Their outside eye performs a vital function, as does half of their brain.  Can you imagine sleeping on air, unable to rest on land or water?  What a marvelous wonder are the frigate birds!

There is an ode to a snail removed from a desert in Egypt in 1846.  It was thought the shell was empty until . . . four years later.  When next spring comes and the peepers sing, remember what courses through their blood to keep them alive as they hibernate. We know their societies are highly evolved.  We know they are far smaller than we are, but a sixty second snooze is much, much too short.  The function of sleep is amazing and so are the animals who rely on it to exist.

After her introduction author Kate Hosford pens poems which read like lullabies.  Each one addresses the habits of the animals while employing rhyming rhythms and repetition of phrases.  Alliteration elevates the cadence.

Opposite each poem, on the left, is at least one paragraph placed on the right describing the facts known about the creature.  Within these facts terms perhaps unknown are defined in the context of the explanations. Here is a partial poem and its accompanying partial factual account.

How the Sloth Sleeps

Green algae grows upon her back.
She eats a little for a snack
And sleeps all day above the ground
Upside down, just hanging around.

At night she'll climb with two-toed feet
While looking for some leaves to eat.
She hides and chews without a sound
Upside down, just hanging around.

Two-Toed Sloths
Found in the Amazon rainforest, nocturnal two-toed sloths can sleep up to sixteen hours a day, often while hanging upside down from a tree branch.  Sloths also like to sleep curled up in a ball in the fork of a tree.  At night, two-toed sloths wake and eat leaves.  Because the leaves give them very little energy or muscle tone, sloths must conserve energy by moving slowly and hardly ever leaving their trees.

Five of the featured animals are found nestled into the landscape of delicate flowers and leafy trees on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The deep blue canvas used here frequently appears within the interior of the book.  The scrolled font on the title contributes to the feeling of peace present in the poems.  On the front of the dust jacket the leaves and stems are embossed in gold foil.  This depiction is lovely, simply lovely.

To the left, on the back, an interior image is used.  It's of the sleeping sperm whales; some with tails up, some with tails down.  A bit of light shines from above illuminating the swimming youngster on the surface and depicting a realm of shadowy contrasts.

On the opening and closing endpapers a soothing wide-angle panorama of the tops of forest evergreens spans from left to right.  Above it the Milky Way and a multitude of other stars carpet the night sky, a sky in hues of blue.  Illustrator Jennifer M. Potter continues to create lush, eloquent scenes for each animal throughout the book.

Her single-page pictures focus on the habitat and the animal in their most graceful poses of sleep.  If an animal is known to sleep in more than one posture, she does showcase it.  Some of her images are framed in a crisp, clean white and others fill the entire page.  These visuals are sensory, conveying a specific atmosphere.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the zebra finch.  We are brought close to the sleeping male bird.  He is resting on and among flowery branches with pale pink flowers.  These flowers provide a pleasing contrast to the night sky and his coloring.  He has distinctive feathers on his sides, a rusty shade with white spots.  His cheeks are orange and black stripes appear on his throat and on his creamy white breast. His beak is a brilliant orange.

Words and images, beautiful to behold harmonize wonderfully with the factual information in A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals written by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Jennifer M. Potter.  As a read aloud with a group or one-on-one, this presents information while offering comforting scenes.  It opens the door to discussions and further research.  A two-page glossary is included at the end.  An extensive list of persons in the acknowledgements supplies us with the knowledge of author Kate Hosford's fact-checking.  This is a gentle gem you'll want to have in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Kate Hosford and Jennifer M. Potter and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Kate Hosford has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Jennifer M. Potter has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Kate Hosford is interviewed at author Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations about this book and at the Nerdy Book Club  she talks about this title. 

Be sure to visit the site, Kid Lit Frenzy, hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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