The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed by Helen Cooper

Almost every child would fit the title billing of The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed at one time or another — a wryly empathetic nod-and-wink to parents. The eponymous Baby in question, however, is a particularly strong-headed child who races away from his mother in his (toy) car and enters into a dreamy world where he attempts to get a tiger, a train, as well as some soldiers and musicians to play with him, but all to no avail — it’s bedtime for them, too. And, what fun can there be for the Baby when there’s no one to play with?

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Written using a combination of indirect narration and direct speech, the author’s choice of words and style of writing have a soothing effect that gently lulls the reader into a relaxed state. The cleverest trick up the author’s sleeve, though, is how she has used not the mom in the book, but the voices of the other characters to persuade the Baby (and hence all other babies reading the book) that it’s time for bed. I also love the way the mom makes a reappearance in the story at just the perfect time to make everything right and tuck Baby in bed — at last!

But as good as the text reads, the drop-dead-beautiful illustrations are what really bowled us over. At once realistic, fantastical, surreal and dreamy, the richly detailed artwork will draw you in and leave you spellbound. Numerous witty touches abound, thanks to the author’s imagination, such as the nursery-rhyme/fairytale characters asleep on the train, the soldiers carrying toothbrushes instead of rifles, and the strings holding up the moon and stars. The twist in the tale — which won’t matter much to kids but which will make parents smile — at the end of the book further reveals the true genius of the illustrations, particularly on second look.

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As the book progresses, the amount of ‘light’ in the artwork dims: from the golden light of a setting sun illuminating the Baby’s path, to a reddish-brown landscape that eventually darkens into the greyness of night — another subtle signal to readers that it’s time for them to turn in for the night.

Just when I thought we’d seen them all when it comes to bedtime books, we inadvertently stumbled upon a veritable classic (in a secondhand bookstore!) that has echoes of the eminent titles Sleep Like a Tiger and Where the Wild Things Are. In fact, this may be my personal favourite of them all.

Note: This book has been re-released as a Picture Puffins paperback as ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed’.

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