March 31, 2016


How to Put Your Parents to Bed. By Mylisa Larsen. Illustrated by Babette Cole. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $17.99.

No Sleep for the Sheep! By Karen Beaumont. Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $6.99.

     An amusing turnaround-is-fair-play bedtime book, Mylisa Larsen’s How to Put Your Parents to Bed starts in an entirely typical way, with an active little girl with too much to do to get ready for bed, then quickly flip the scene around. “Have you looked at your parents?” Larsen asks. And Babette Cole’s illustration of two completely worn-out adults, their eyes barely staying open and exhaustion written all over their faces, is more eloquent than mere words would be. So now it becomes the girl’s job to get her parents to go to sleep, even though “it’s one excuse after another with them,” with mom insisting that she has to get laundry done and dad working feverishly away on his computer (whose logo is not an apple with a bite taken out of it but a pear with a bite taken out of it). Helping with tooth brushing is a chore, as is getting parents into pajamas, because there are so many distractions in the form of phones, magazines, TV, even the family cat. To make matters worse, “some parents become unruly when faced with actually getting in bed,” and Cole’s scene of parents running wild as they “work themselves into a state” is among the funniest in the book. Eventually, after bedtime stories, last-minute issues involving favorite pillows and itchy socks, and a delightfully pictured pillow fight, the little girl confiscates her parents’ cell phones and leaves the quiet room after giving the adults good-night kisses. Now she can really make use of all that energy that she had at the book’s beginning – except that now she is exhausted and has to go to bed. Kids in the 4-8 age range will love the reverse role-playing here and will revel in the very funny pictures, while adults may (if they are not too tired) be able to use the book to show kids, in an easy-to-understand way, just how exhausting it is to put someone to bed who needs to sleep but does not want to. Lesson learned? Maybe. Don’t count on it, but count on having bedtime fun trying to teach it.

     The sheep’s problem is pretty much the opposite of I-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed in Karen Beaumont’s No Sleep for the Sheep! The sheep does want to rest, but the other animals make it impossible. Originally published in 2011 and now available in paperback, the book cleverly starts with the sort of bedtime-book cadence that invites children to relax and settle down: “In the big red barn on the farm, on the farm,/ in the bed red barn on the farm…” But matters soon become much less peaceful, as the sleeping sheep is awakened by a loud “quack,” coming from a duck at the door. What to do? Bring the duck inside so you both can rest, of course. And that works just fine, until there is a loud “baaa” from a goat at the door. The sheep – whose repeated awakenings are reflected in funnier and funnier expressions rendered by Jackie Urbanovic – goes through the litany of quieting the intruder down and bringing him inside, and soon sheep, duck and goat are all resting peacefully. But then comes a loud “oink” and, once again, “the sheep couldn’t sleep any more.” All right, all right – the pig joins everyone else in a pile of tiredness. But soon there is a loud “moo,” and the sheep, pulling his ears in frustration, is awake again. The cow eventually beds down, too, but in a little while, a loud “neigh” disturbs the poor sheep’s slumber yet another time – although, thank goodness, this time things stay quiet after the horse joins all the other animals “in the big red barn on the farm.” Happy ending? Not quite, because now it is almost dawn and, this being a farm, what happens at dawn? The rooster’s super-loud cock-a-doodle-doo, that’s what! And that wakes everyone up except the sheep, who is so exhausted that he sleeps right through the wake-up call and does not even notice when all the other animals leave the barn to greet the morning. A funny story whose repetitive writing makes it delightful to read out loud, No Sleep for the Sheep! is the sort of bedtime tale that will help kids rest because of its winning combination of absurdity and gently rhythmic prose. And with any luck, once the children are nestled all snug in their beds, parents will have a chance of getting some sleep of their own.

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