May 05, 2016


Go to Sleep, Monster! By Kevin Cornell. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Very Little Sleeping Beauty. By Teresa Heapy. Illustrations by Sue Heap. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $16.99.

     With all the bedtime books out there, it seems reasonable to imagine that there would be a glut. After all, how many ways can authors and illustrators show reluctant sleepers a set of bedtime-related problems requiring clever solutions of some sort? But the books keep coming, and the offbeat answers to everyday nighttime concerns never seem to stop. Of course, some books are a bit beyond the everyday, such as Go to Sleep, Monster! Kevin Cornell starts with the ordinary-enough notion of beneath-bed baddies stopping kids from getting some rest, but he takes it up to new levels. Or, not to be directionally inaccurate, down to new levels. It seems that a boy name George, first seen clutching the covers to his face in a very well-drawn darkened room, cannot get to sleep one night because of the monster under his bed. So his sister, Anna, comes in to help. And sure enough, there is a monster under the bed, complete with wide smile and purple, egg-shaped head. Anna will brook no disobedience from such a creature: she orders it to stop scaring her brother, because it is time to go to sleep. But the monster cannot sleep – because there is a monster under the floor. Now it is time for a priceless, silent exchange of looks among the three characters, Anna, George and the monster. Well, something has to be done, so Anna climbs below the floor, followed by George and the purple monster, and finds a green, horned, one-eyed creature that she orders to go to sleep. But no, the monster cannot sleep, because there is a monster under the room. So down go Anna and George into a marvelously dark room-beneath-the-room in which the only light seeps in from the green monster’s level – but there is nothing there. Or – yes, there is, clinging to a chandelier out of fear of the monster under the table. Which is scared of the monster under the house, which fears the monster under the gravel, which is terrified of the monster under the dirt, which is petrified of the one “in the center-most center of the center of the earth!” How low can this go? Well, the troop of two kids and a whole passel of monsters makes it down to the dragonlike center-of-earth monster, only to find that it too is afraid – and of what, since “you’re the underest under something someone can be”? Aha! This monster is afraid of being alone! And so we have another marvelous silent page, illuminated this time by the light in the eyes of the whole cadre of characters; and the solution is obvious and delightful, as kids and monsters alike return to Anna’s and George’s house and happily fall asleep in a huge pile – which, however, does something mighty strange to the house itself…and that carries through all the way to the book’s back cover, which provides a suitably monstrous epilogue.

     Cornell invents his own bedtime fairy tale, but Teresa Heapy prefers to reinvent existing ones. Hence she and illustrator Sue Heap have produced Very Little Red Riding Hood, Very Little Cinderella, and now Very Little Sleeping Beauty. More accurately, this is about Very Little NON-Sleeping Beauty, who is so excited about her birthday party the next day – “with cake and Aunty Fairy” – that she cannot go to bed at all, much less as early as Daddy wants her to. So Very Little Sleeping Beauty launches into all the delaying tactics she can. First, Daddy must sing to her, and not a lullaby, and not just a single song. Daddy obliges, and then goes along with Very Little Sleeping Beauty’s follow-up insistence on “stories, and tickles, and dancing, and a jump on the bed!” And Daddy does it all with 100% good humor, too (showing parents just how much of a fairy tale this is). Indeed, Daddy’s upbeat attitude persists as Very Little Sleeping Beauty insists that he run upstairs and downstairs repeatedly to find her bear and blanket and get her a drink in her “special-est cup.” But – uh-oh – the cup is nowhere to be found, and Very Little Sleeping Beauty gets tired of waiting, so she wanders from room to room until she encounters Aunty Fairy in the “tallest tower room” and ends up having a problem with her birthday gift, a spinning wheel (that is, in this case, a wheel that spins). Troubles ensue, soon resolved by Daddy, who is still (extremely improbably) smiling; and finally, Very Little Sleeping Beauty goes to sleep “just as the sun was about to rise.” And she manages to sleep right through her birthday party! “No one could wake her, however hard they tried.” But of course there is a happy ending, as she wakes on her own – at what should be bedtime – and everyone has a “pyjama party” (British spelling: Heapy and Heap live in England). The layering of a straightforward story of a little girl who will not go to sleep on the classic tale of a princess whose sleep is magical and extended makes Very Little Sleeping Beauty, like the previous Heapy/Heap collaborations, an amusingly enjoyable story, although parents with less tolerance than the book’s Daddy (and less obliviousness than its Mommy) may want to think twice before using it as a bedtime book and possibly encouraging real-life all-nighters.

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