Review: Twenty Yawns


Twenty Yawns
by Jane Smiley
Illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Published by Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing (April 1, 2016)
Ages 3-7

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Jane Smiley will have her first children’s book, Twenty Yawns, released at the beginning of next month. The bedtime tale is illustrated by Lauren Castillo, author and illustrator of Nana in the City, a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book. With its engaging story and warm, inviting illustrations, Twenty Yawns is a worthy addition to the nighttime arsenal of soothing bedtime stories.

We meet Lucy as she’s digging a big hole at the beach. We then travel with her as she spends a fun-filled, sunny day playing with her mom and dad and other kids by the ocean. When the day is done and it’s time for bed, Lucy’s mom starts to read a bedtime story, but after such an exhausting day she falls asleep before the story is finished – leaving Lucy wide awake. The dark, quiet house makes it even harder for Lucy to fall asleep, so she gets up to find her bear, Molasses. As she’s carrying Molasses back to bed, she looks back to see her other stuffed animals looking lonely. She drags them all to bed, and with big yawns from the stuffed animals, the moon and Lucy herself, she finally falls fast asleep.

Castillo employs soft, boldly outlined illustrations to set the tone throughout the story. With an impeccable use of color, she transitions the mood from the bright beach to the sleepy bedroom and from sleepy bedroom to spooky bedroom and back again.

Smiley’s text holds its own – painting a picture of a little girl enjoying an exciting day, then struggling to fall asleep because of the quiet, “mysterious” atmosphere that descends upon a house at night. From the opening line to the very end, you could read the story without the illustrations and still see the scene in your mind’s eye.

The combined strength of the illustrations and storytelling, plus its gentle tone, makes Twenty Yawns an excellent choice for exploring the theme of nighttime fright with a child. And it’s enjoyable to read.

Diversity in children’s books is a hot topic right now, and rightfully so. The We Need Diverse Books™ organization makes the case that all children should be able to find books that allow them to see themselves in the story. The fundamental story in Twenty Yawns could be any child, but the illustrator, writer and publisher have done a great service for our culture at-large by simply making the family in the story bi-racial. Kudos!

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Interested in Lauren Castillo’s work? Here are links to some of her other books:


FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Review: Waiting


Waiting
by Kevin Henkes
Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (September 1, 2015)
Ages 4-8

My Rating: 5 stars

Review:
In our “hurry up” culture, waiting is so often associated with negative feelings, like impatience and worry. In the world of Waiting by Kevin Henkes, waiting feels more like reverence for the simpler things in life.

Five toy friends – the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy and the rabbit – sit upon a child’s windowsill. They wait and watch for the things they love – the moon, the rain, the wind and the snow. And the rabbit simply loves watching out the window. While they wait, they see wondrous things, like rainbows and images in the clouds. The friends are sometimes separated, but they always return to their home where they are happy together. They lose a new friend to tragedy, but are in the end graced with another friend who is waiting for something special. When that something special arrives they are blessed with new friends to enjoy their windowsill home with.

The calming effect of Waiting is palpable. The waiting in the book doesn’t feel anxious. It feels more like waiting for those things in life that are always there for you, like a warm fire in the middle of winter or the warm sunshine on the first day of spring. Everything the toy friends wait for is either cyclical in nature or bound to happen at some point in the future, so the friends appear to have patience and faith that their favorite things will come around again. This is very different from the experience of waiting that most children and many adults have. It’s exactly this difference that makes the story worth reading again and again. It’s an introduction for children and a reminder for grown-ups that waiting doesn’t always have to be fraught with worry, fear and longing. The rabbit exudes the attitude best – watching and letting the world reveal its wonders can be enjoyable itself. You don’t even have to be waiting for something in particular. Simply being in the world in the here and now is its own reward.

It always amazes me how much emotion can be shown with the simple change in expression on the face of a character. Henkes, of course, masters this with the subtle changes of the toy characters whose home is always the same, but with a backdrop that is always changing. This is most poignant in the four pages with the toys observing the rainbow, the lightning, the snow storm and the fireworks. The wonder, fear, awe and enjoyment are portrayed with great skill. The feelings are familiar, and they jump off the page into your heart.

Waiting is thought of as a book about friends, but I see this as a book about family. The ending especially drives this home. These friends are a family enjoying each other’s company as they each experience the world in their own unique way.

Kevin Henkes has offered the world many great works of children’s fiction. What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments section.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

Review: Steam Train, Dream Train


Steam Train, Dream Train
by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Published by Chronicle Books (April 16, 2013)
Ages 4-6

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
I recently picked up a copy of Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker because I’ve discovered I’m a fan of the illustrator, Tom Lichtenheld. Much like he does in Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry, Lichtenheld captures the feeling of the story and elevates the entire experience of Steam Train, Dream Train.

When the steam train pulls into Night Falls station, the happiest-looking animal crew gets to work loading the cars with toys, balls, sand and more. Each item is placed into its proper train car, and when the train is all loaded up, the animal crew begins to tuck themselves in for the night. The train pulls out of the station and then it is time to say, “Goodnight.”

Steam Train, Dream Train is a lovely story with rhyming text that subtly calms the mind with the loading of each car. The illustrations are both colorful and soothing – the perfect balance between engaging and dreamy that makes for a good bedtime story.

What’s your favorite bedtime story? Share with me in the comments section.

Click here to read my review of Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.