Fuse #8

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Review of the Day: Little Night

Little Night by Yuyi Morales. Roaring Brook Press (A Neal Porter Book). $16.95.

You ever get so attached to an illustrator that they could be drawing stick figures on matchboxes and you’d still pay top dollar to look at ‘em? Yeah. So that’s basically my attitude towards Yuyi Morales. She could draw images for Pictionary and I’d be all gaga over them. I can’t help it. The woman has skills. I was wowed by her Pure Belpre Medal winning, “Just a Minute” and more than a tad impressed by the illustrations contributed to “Los Gatos Black on Halloween”. “Little Night,” however, is a very rare critter; a bedtime picture book I actually like. Don’t get me wrong. There are good bedtime stories out there in the world. I just happen to dislike a good 95% of them. They’re either too treacly or too icky-cutesy. They try too hard and end up too earnest, or their tone is off and they simply don’t read well to kids. “Little Night”, exhibits none of these flaws. It’s a tale as sweetly dark and tender-hearted as a warm hug on a summer night. The fact that it also happens to be beautiful to boot doesn’t hurt things any either.

“In the flowered city there is an endless mother, giving and magnificent like the sky.” These words come from Yuyi Morales’s dedication to her mother, but she could well be talking about the mother in this book. Nighttime is drawing near and Mother Night needs to get her daughter Little Night out of bed and ready. Her small child, however, has other plans in mind. If Mama wants her to take a bath in a tub full of falling stars she’ll need to play a little hide-and-seek by the rabbit holes first. And if Mama wants to dress Little Night in her bedtime gown crocheted from the clouds above, she may need to first peek inside the bats’ cave to find her giggling child. On and on they go, with Mama preparing and Little Night hiding until at last it's time for the child to take her moon and bounce it high into the air.

I made the mistake of reading another review of this book before writing my own. Usually I try to avoid doing this because I have this fear that I’ll somehow digest another person’s words into my subconscious and end up parroting things they’ve already said. It’s even worse, though, when someone comes up with a description of the book that you wish to high heaven you’d come up with. So with full credit going to Randall Enos of Booklist, one of the things I loved the most about Morales’s art, were her, “rich jewel-tone colors.” I mean, there’s just no better way to describe them. These colors seep over the pages with deep reds, purples, and indigo blues. With her backgrounds in place, the pure white of the stars pierces the gloom just like Little Night’s mischievous twinkling eyes. The exaggerated characters give the book a little extra added oomph too. I love how Mother Sky is this all expansive bell-shaped maternal figure. Her two braids curl delicately at their ends like the tip of a cat’s tail and her tiny hands weave Little Night’s hair into intricate braids, with three gleaming planets to hold it all in place.

In a way, you can read this book as a description of the way in which the sky changes in the evening. Falling stars and fading clouds at the start. Fireflies and the slow appearance of the Milky Way next. Finally the view of, “Venus on the east, Mercury on the west, and Jupiter above,” with a thick round moon to cap it all off at the end. So lovely. Kids will also enjoy this book when they find that Little Night isn’t just playing hide and go seek with her mother in these pages. She’s playing with the reader as well. You can usually spot her, though, since her tiny white eyes sparkle like little stars wherever it is that she goes.

All told, the current crop of children’s picture books the publishers are putting out there these days aren’t exactly o’erflowing with Hispanic characters. You can find them if you need to, but sometimes it’s nice to find a really high quality picture book containing characters that aren’t whitey white white. It’s nice too to see a book where the affection between the mother and the child feels genuine. I know “Runaway Bunny” has its fans, but books like that one never really convince me that the mother in the story feels anything aside from an almost violent possessiveness towards her child. “Little Night,” however, feels loving and warm. In short, perfect bedtime reading.

The obvious pairing with this book would have to be with Ana Juan’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous, “The Night Eater”. Duh. The two picture books were darn well made for one another. But while one is about the fellow who eats away the night to make way for the dawn, the other is about the night going through an, ironically enough, wake-up routine at the close of day. Searching for a proper bedtime tale isn’t a difficult task in and of itself. It’s nice, though, to find a book that is quite as touching, magical, and doggone adorable as this. Worth holding onto, tight.

Previously Reviewed By: BC Books.

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At 12:56 AM , Blogger shy_smiley said...

When does this release? Last year I had the privilege of meeting Yuyi at a literacy conference at the University of Arizona. She's a wonderful speaker: she came to the States five or so years ago with her young son and claims she learned to speak English from watching Sesame Street and other children's programming. She does puppets, often making puppet models of her characters to sketch from. She showed us slides of the evolution of Senor Calavera, how she worked so hard to make him just right: just enough scary mixed with just enough adorable. I agree: what a beautiful book. Can't wait to get my hands on Little Night.

The Night Eater, too, is among my favorites, but Ana Juan has been the object of my worship ever since her illustrations for Frida. There's familiarity to her illustrations, familiarity bent by dark whimsy. Morales and Juan are a likely pair; I wonder what they'd come up with if ever they collaborated?

Thanks for a great little blog to keep laypeople informed about the world of children's literature. Last semester I took a class at the U of A titled Children's Literature in the Classroom, touting a literature-based curriculum. Your blog led me to Singing Hands, Fly by Night, and Jazz. I teach preschool to young three year olds, but maybe one day when I grow up I'd like to be a children's librarian. Thanks for giving me inspiration!

At 9:13 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Wow. Thanks for the good word. And I've happy news on "Little Night" publication-wise. Insofar as I can tell it's available for purchase right now. Maybe I should make an "On shelves now" comment on books like this one.

Thanks for commenting!

At 9:31 AM , Blogger Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

I'm with you Betsy, I LOVE Yuyi's work. Can't wait to get my hands on this one!


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