February 18, 2010


While the World Is Sleeping. By Pamela Duncan Edwards. Illustrated by Daniel Kirk. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

Sweet Dreams Lullaby. By Betsy Snyder. Random House. $15.99.

     There is something about nighttime books for young children that inspires authors to write poetry – and not just any poetry, but poems in exactly the same meter. Here is a sample from When the World Is Sleeping: “In the meadow far below,/ See father stag and mother doe./ Tiny fawns spring to and fro,/ While the world is sleeping.” And here is one from Sweet Dreams Lullaby: “The day is done. It’s time for bed./ Let peaceful moments fill your head./ So cuddle up and snuggle in,/ and let your happy dreams begin.” To be sure, the singsong rhythms and gentle cadences of both these rhyming tales are immediately appealing, and the regularity of the verse helps create a restful state both in a tired child and in the parent who is reading to him or her. And both these books make lovely nighttime tales – Betsy Snyder’s for even younger kids than Pamela Duncan’s, which has a slightly more sophisticated story line and more “fantasy realism” in Daniel Kirk’s drawings.

     While the World Is Sleeping is a child’s make-believe journey atop an owl’s back, high above rooftops and fields, meadow and river and forest. The child is drawn highly realistically – and androgynously, even to his or her yellow pajamas, so kids of either gander can relate to the adventure. The animals portrayed in the pictures are drawn with loving care and mostly with huge, expressive eyes, and they are not anthropomorphized: they do what real animals do, from beavers building a dam to a mother mouse protecting her babies from a nearby snake. The sleeping child – for the whole tale must be a dream, or one of those near-dreams experienced just as sleep comes – is small enough to ride atop the owl and therefore small enough to see every detail of what the various animals are doing at night. But there is no danger here – only a sense of wonder and discovery that ends with sunrise and the crowing of a rooster when “the world has finished sleeping.”

     Sweet Dreams Lullaby is a more straightforward bedtime book, featuring a mother rabbit (not drawn realistically) putting her baby bunny to bed and inviting him or her (again, a child of either gender can enjoy this story) to imagine “the dandelion breeze” and “blossoms, soft as snow” and “a canopy of weeping willows” and “gentle raindrop showers” and other sweet, soft and relaxing things – shown in nicely colored pastel pictures that take baby bunny through an entire day of happy adventures and into a night of “tiptoes through the grass/ and fireflies that blink and flash,” of “purple twilight skies” and “a bedtime kiss from butterflies.” If it is the pictures that are outstanding in While the World Is Sleeping, it is the text that lulls and enchants in Sweet Dreams Lullaby. So parents who want to buy only one of these two charming books can choose based on whether a child will sleep more easily after a wonderful visual adventure or after listening to words telling of the pleasures of everyday things.

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