Poor Mr. Bear. When Mrs. Bear’s loud snores prevent him from falling asleep in their bed, Mr. Bear decides to find somewhere else to sleep. Alas, no matter which part of the house he goes, peace and, consequently, sleep continue to evade him.
There’s something about the text from certain vintage children’s books that is refreshingly quirky; it probably helps that they were not edited to death like how some of the contemporary children’s books can be, such that every word sounds overly polished — and predictably dull, politically correct and uninspired. Hence, it is nice to see some of these out-of-print gems being given a new lease of life by publishers who are remastering the old books or refreshing the text with new illustrations.
Which brings us to It Is Night, a 1953 classic by Phyllis Rowand that has been updated with the winsome paintings of Laura Dronzek.
If the extreme weather conditions that everyone has been experiencing around the world, especially in the last few months — unusually snowy and super-cold winter in the northern hemisphere; excessively hot and dry summer in the southern hemisphere — are anything to go by, it’s no longer possible to deny that climate change is well underway, and unfortunately, not for the better. Even here in equatorial Singapore, we are not spared: where we used to experience frequent showers and thunderstorms, in the last two months, we haven’t so much as seen a drop of rain, and as a result, all the poor plants are turning brown and wilting from the dry heat — in fact, February 2014 was the driest month here since 1869! Thus, the arrival of the milder conditions of spring (or autumn, as the case may be), is a harbinger of hope that maybe, just maybe, this crazy weather is temporary and that, fingers crossed, things will soon go back to normal.
But I digress.
Most children have their own funny little quirks and preferences for how things ‘should be’, and most of the time, this is both amusing and endearing to witness, since it’s their way of asserting their individuality. Alas, sometimes, these seemingly trivial details can turn into hair-pulling nightmares for parents when kids refuse to fulfil various tasks because of these same not-so-funny-anymore idiosyncrasies.
Case in point: the little girl Alice in In a Blue Room, who attempts to use her inordinate love for the colour blue to try to delay her bedtime, by insisting on all things blue.
“Yawns are sneaky,” begins I Dare You Not to Yawn, an unusual bedtime story. But what’s probably even sneakier is a book written in a conspiratorial tone that ostensibly seeks to help kids delay their bedtime by listing the different ways in which they can combat that tell-tale sign of sleepiness, yawning, when it is actually doing its utmost to make them feel sleepy.
Anyone who has lain hopelessly awake in bed after trying in vain to sleep, will be able to identify with the unlikely protagonist in Everyone Sleeps: a pet pug named Conrad, who seems to be the only one in the house who has trouble sleeping.
While lamenting about his sleeplessness, Conrad goes for a long walk and talks about how and/or where other animals — including squirrels, ducks, frogs, polar bears, walruses, monkeys and, naturally, sheep — sleep. Just when he thinks he’s alone in his predicament, however, he discovers someone else who is as wide awake as he is…
Winter is personified here as Old Man Winter who tries to get an absent-minded and hard-of-hearing bear to go into hibernation by telling him, “Sleep, big bear, sleep.” But each time, the bear mishears his advice and does everything but that: sweep, leap, drive a jeep, etc.
It’s hard to write a new bedtime book that isn’t trite and stale since the theme has been attempted so many times before, to different results — but I think we’ve found a new classic. The little girl in Sleep Like a Tiger isn’t sleepy — or so she repeatedly tells her unruffled parents, who nonetheless manage to get her to change into her pajamas, wash her face, brush her teeth and lie on the bed. Instead of nagging her to sleep, they even tell her that she can stay up all night if she wants. Reverse psychology perhaps, but it works.
In this story, a little owl is the only creature that is still awake in the night, and he flies around to observe the different styles in which other animals sleep.