Mar 22, 2019

SWEET DREAMERS: A Dream of a Book-- YES!

Anyone who reads my posts here can be forgiven for thinking that I rave about any and all picture books. 
Not true, my friends.
It IS true that I adore picture books. I swoon over text that is lyrical, powerful, surprising, tempting, laugh-inducing, tear-teasing, and otherwise memorable. 
It IS true that I savor picture books as a form of fine art, with the added intentional benefit of storytelling, question-raising, emotion-soothing, mood-setting, purposeful page-turning design and execution.
The many things I love about picture books are the reasons I am selective about which books I choose to feature in my blog posts. 
Not all picture books that cross my lap or laptop are featured here. 
There is not enough time in my life (or in the universe) to analyze or even account for every picture book, even the recent ones. 
Instead, I selectively consider which books serve special purposes in life- in the lives of adults like me, and teachers, parents, and librarians. 
So, yes, I tend to rave about the books that I feature here. 
Even more so, I seek out and feature books that BELONG IN THE LIVES OF YOUNG READERS! 
Yes, I shouted that.
Yes, I'm presuming that my opinion matters.
Yes, some books are worthy of that assertion, shouted in upper case letters.

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers March, 2019
You may want to plug your ears in case I shout, but keep on reading, please.
SWEET DREAMERS, written and illustrated by Isabelle Simler, is such a book. This is a picture/poetry book that, on the surface, is a bedtime book. 
Many bedtime books are produced in hand-friendly trim sizes, with thirty-two or fewer satiny pages within glossy covers, often with pastel colors. There are plenty of exceptions, but few that divert so thoroughly from those conventions.
Sweet Dreamers is an oversized book (about 10"x11" with 80 pages!) features intense colors, especially orange tones, created with what appears to be a black scratchboard technique. I puzzled over the remarkable application of this media for several days before discovering a review by Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 Production, an acclaimed blog for School Library Journal. 
Finding her post was both good news and bad news for me. She had tracked down the answers to my questions about Simler's art technique. It is, in fact, an incredibly original and gorgeous digital adaptation of scratchboard art. Bird also provided the translator's name, Sarah Ardizzone, who deserves credit for preserving the remarkable beauty of the poems written originally in Simler's native French. Bird's review (also raving) managed to include virtually every feature of this book that I had intended to praise. She points out the thematic organization of the images and poems, the flow from page to page, as a seamless whole, the wordless double page nighttime scenes of  varied habitats, the drama of shifting perspectives and scales of the featured animals and backgrounds. Bird also praises the short but astute, sensory-rich poems of various animals like seahorse:
"He clings to a stalk/and drifts with the waves./ 
As if on a carousel,/ the seahorse dreams at a gallop."

Each poem suggests a dozing, dreamy creature while hinting at the nature and behavior of the species, suggesting the instinctive patterns that shape the nature and value of sleep for that individual creature. She also notes the remarkable organizational structure of this lengthy collection. 
Are you wondering how annoyed I was after reading how thoroughly she had analyzed and praised this book?  Let me assure you that Betsy Bird is such an admired librarian/reviewer that her reflections actually reassured me about my assessments. I did wonder, though, if my review would be  limited to a link to her post and my robust "I AGREE!". (Now or later, I urge you to read her linked post in full.)
Actually, though, as I read her post over and over, I realized I still had things to say. 
Along with the many reasons she noted to admire this book, I want to call attention to the unifying impact of the colors and shapes of the moon and eyes throughout these pages. From the end papers (front and back) and all the scenes and creatures within its covers, there is a unifying, transformative power of light in the darkness. The moon itself, and its reflected light in and through and across various surfaces, defines and reveals hidden truths about the world around us. The moon shines through the wordless spreads, in the moon-like faces and eyes of sloth and bat, in the globular leaves and rounded bodies of robin and flamingo, even in the crescent reflections in the eight spider eyes, or the curled cat... I could go on. Throughout it all, the darkness is no longer a scary entity, but rather a landscape of beauty, inviting dreamers.
Consider paging through this amazing book without reading, without imaging the stories/poems of each creature, without seeking a unifying theme. Simply turn the pages, soak in the images, follow the flow of light and darkness, and allow yourself to slip into its magic. 
What does not appear on first glance to be a 'typical" bedtime book may well be the most effective and beautiful bedtime books in years. 
I urge you to share this book with young sleepyheads, and keep it handy for your own next sleepless night.

A copy of this book was provided in exchange for a fair and honest review.


  1. I enjoyed the synergy between your review and Betsy's. In fact, I had missed hers altogether, so if you had not also posted, I might have missed this delightful title! Adding to my TBR pile right away.

  2. Happy to call Betsy's post to your attention. She did such a thorough and detailed analysis! This is a book that deserves as many praising-posts as possible!

  3. Wonderful review & so happy this is releasing soon - not sure I can wait!

  4. Thank you, Patricia. As much as I enjoy the privilege of advance readings when I have that opportunity,mit drives me slightly nuts when Iread reviews by other but the book isn't really available yet. These days they say that preordering a book gives a huge boost to the authors, and yet if you haven't had a chance to really see it, hands on, it can feel risky to preorder when there are so many books to love (and buy!) out there. Just one more day and your library until release and then your library should have it, or certainly request that they get it!

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