A Caldecott Medalist returns with a book that may help toddlers and preschoolers fall asleep
So Sleepy Story. Uri Shulevitz. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 32 pp., $16. Ages: 2 and up.
By Janice Harayda
True story: I found this book in the third-floor children’s department of my public library, where a librarian recommended it to me. By the time I got to the checkout desk on the first floor, I was yawning just from looking at the cover. So Sleepy Story is so remarkably effective at making you feel sleepy that every time I tried to review it during the daytime, I had to put it aside, because I was afraid of nodding off. Imagine, parents, what this book could do for your children.
So Sleepy Story draws on a fact well-known to psychologists: Yawns are among the most contagious — perhaps the most contagious — of all forms of behavior. A lot of us will start to yawn, even if we’re not tired, just because we’re looking at someone who is. Or because we read the word “yawn” on the page. If I use the word “yawn” a couple more times in this review, you might be yawning by the end.
Uri Shulevitz makes brilliant use of this principle by beginning and ending his story with a picture of a house with a yawning “face.” He also uses pen-and-watercolor illustrations in muted colors that intensify the soporific effect. Goodnight Moon is a riot of color compared with So Sleepy Story, which looks so much more somber than many picture books that you might pass it up if you saw it on a shelf.
But that subdued quality is a part of what’s so effective about this tale of boy who wakes up in the night when music drifts into his room, then falls back to sleep. So is the heavy use of repetition of the word “sleepy,” which appears on almost every page, including the first: “In a sleepy sleepy house/everything is sleepy sleepy.” And because I’m getting a little sleepy from writing this, I’ll end by saying that the book includes a series of pictures of dishes with human faces that pay homage to Randolph Caldecott’s famous illustrations for the nursery rhyme about the dish that ran away with the spoon. So Sleepy Story may especially appeal to a child who sometimes wakes up at night and needs a little help getting back to sleep … and isn’t that just about every child?
Furthermore: Uri Shulevitz won a Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, written with Arthur Radsome. And some librarians thought that So Sleep Story had a good shot at this year’s medal, which went to David Wiesner’s Flotsam.
Published: August 2006
(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.