Picture books are powerful. No matter your age, they can alter your perspectives, providing new information and changing what you know about people, places, and things. They can initiate or grow your compassion, generosity, comprehension, courage, and capacity for love. Most of all they supply us with the opportunity to connect with other people across the spectrum of ages, sharing moments of laughter, tears, hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and lasting affection.
Of these books, some can give us scary shivers and silly laughter at the same time. The newest title written and illustrated by Theodore Geisel Honor-winning Jonathan Fenske is one of those books. As the first words in After Squidnight (Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 28, 2020) are read, listeners and readers alike, will seek cozy comfort.
The sky is black.
The clouds are inky.
The salty air
is still and stinky.
You are snug in your bed, unaware of what is about to happen. Out on the sea, the squid are rising from the depths. Slowly, as the midnight hour approaches, so do they on the sandy beaches. Your dreams are unlike those of the squid. They dream of drawings, drawings of ink.
These artists slither into your home, ready to leave their quirky shapely lines. No cupboard or drawer in the kitchen is left unopened. They give new meaning to artwork on the fridge. Do they stay in the kitchen? No!
No space is safe from these clever creators. They creep from place to place until they arrive in your bedroom. Every item is a canvas for their designs, including your exposed skin and pajamas! As sunlight slowly rises, they leave as quietly as they came.
Your parents do not believe what you think you saw. Your parents look at you, assuming you caused this inky chaos. You get to work to eliminate the mess, but when all is finished you and the squid share a secret.
With appropriate spookiness author Jonathan Fenske fashions a nighttime fantasy featuring sea creatures intent on a mission. Rhyming phrases move at the same pace as the wily squid accomplishing their descriptive activities. Punctuation, and even parentheses, further emphasize the pacing and page turns.
But when you stir,
oh, how they scatter!
Their squiddy hearts
They wait in shadows,
big eyes blinking,
and pause their
squiddly-diddly inking . . .
The color palette, black, white, and turquoise, presented to readers on the open book case is used throughout the book. The elements on the front of the case combine to give readers chills while at the same time making it impossible not to open this book. There are questions needing answers. Why are all the squid out of the sea? Why are they slipping under the open window? The moon and murky sky in the background are the perfect touch to the looks on those squid faces. The title text is raised and varnished. Other elements here and on the back are varnished.
On the back, within a frame made of the underside of a squid arm, is the book's blurb. The introductory statement reads:
Pointy heads and arms of blue
will bring the inky art to you!
A single squid peers over the top of the frame. Other squid arms flow to the left and the right.
On the opening and closing endpapers is a repeating pattern of a large squid drawing a significant image on a wall. It is a blue and black drawing on white. The initial title page features the eerie title text. The verso page includes some squid doodles. A single squid crawls across the page from the left on the formal title page.
rendered on illustration board with #2 pencil and India ink
are double-page pictures, full-page pictures, and smaller insets. The blend of black, white, and turquoise is skillfully presented; each used in the right amount to convey a certain mood. The expressions on the faces of the squids are marvelous. Their doodles are hilarious.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture. A squid is in the bathtub. On the tile surrounding the tub is a frightened fish, a shark, a palm tree (on the towel and wall), a jellyfish, and a snail. In one squid arm we see it is holding a toothbrush with toothpaste on it. This is a drawing on the bathmat. Clothes and glasses have been drawn on a rubber ducky. On the side of the tub is a man in a sailboat among waves. He is pointing, mouth open in a shout, to a fin.
Every time I read this book, After Squidnight written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske, I find myself smiling before I've even reached the second page. The atmosphere the words and artwork conjure asks you to share this book widely and repeatedly. You can expect requests of "read it again." It also invites you to think about other animals leaving their natural habitat to explore and enjoy their favorite things. I know you'll want a copy for your professional and personal collections.