THE NIGHT WORKER

The team behind And If the Moon Could Talk (1998) relates what happens one night when Alex achieves his wish to go to work with Papa, a nighttime engineer on a construction site. Donning their hard hats, the two “men” leave quietly so Mama can sleep. They see other night workers—street sweeper, deliveryman, policewoman—as they head for the site, where “stars shine like beacons for the night workers.” Alex waves back at the giant, airborne arm of an excavator, hears a cement mixer hum as it pours foundation concrete, watches a crane move its heavy load overhead, then gets exciting hands-on experience driving a yellow loader. At break, when “all motion is stopped like a held breath,” it's time for a weary boy to head home through still more night people—couple under a streetlight, woman walking her dog—and go to bed, where his dreams expand his night’s experience. This may be nighttime, but you wouldn’t guess it from the golden light flooding most of the full-bleed, full-spread illustrations, in which objects—including the machines beloved by little boys—are outlined in black so that vibrant hues are separate and distinct under harsh, artificial, nighttime light. The pictured warmth of the father-son relationship combines with restrained yet poetic text to make this “take your son to work night” a special one indeed. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2000

ISBN: 0-374-35520-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

What first seems an eerie, baby-goth vibe is held steady by the stable, close-knit family and lack of crisis in this...

THE INSOMNIACS

A quietly magnificent paean to the wonder of nighttime and the solidity of a family unit.

Unlike picture books that use evening settings to address fears or coax kids into bed, this creative debut makes night-living a valid choice. The city-dwelling Insomniacs aren’t originally “a night family. / But when Mrs. Insomniac found a new job, Mother, Father, and little Mika traveled twelve time zones to their new home,” northern and remote. Hot baths and mugs of milk don’t adjust their internal clocks. Perky all night and dozing all day, they seek counsel from their new neighbors: lynx, bears and bats. “And then the Insomniacs noticed: the darkness was full of life.” Why force it? They decide to “give night a try.” Mika keeps pets—a bandicoot and a fennec fox, among others—and attends night school online; Mother continues her (undefined) science career by studying night stars; Father develops photos in his darkroom. The family catches the bakery opening at dawn and then “bundle[s] into bed.” Prussian blue dominates the offbeat pencil-and-charcoal illustrations, with whites and yellows glowing as moon, snow and lamplight. Figures are thin-armed and deliberate. Composition varies entrancingly, including full spreads, sequential boxes and dotted lines pointing to enlarged details.

What first seems an eerie, baby-goth vibe is held steady by the stable, close-knit family and lack of crisis in this atmospheric, calmly splendid piece. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-25665-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

AT NIGHT

Small in both size and concept, this sweet, gentle story is perfectly constructed and balanced. A girl is awake in her room; her parents and siblings are asleep, but she’s lying there thinking. A breeze beckons her, so she—and the cat—bring pillows and blankets up to the building’s rooftop. She makes herself cozy amid the hanging laundry and the geraniums, “in the night, under the sky. . . . [and] thought about the wide world all around her and smiled.” As she sleeps, readers see her mom, who had heard her stir from bed, sit down beside her up on the roof. Bean’s warmly composed pictures of a Brooklyn brownstone are all in deep browns and sepias; the rooftop opening to the river and the sky are in the hazy grays and blues of urban summer nights. The child, her siblings and her mother all have long dark hair; Dad’s is curly and lighter. Mom’s fuzzy peach robe and dad’s flannel shirt are pleasing foils to the solid dark furniture and architectural accents that so suit the house. Quietly lovely. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-374-30446-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

Not all young readers will have experienced a blackout, but this engaging snapshot could easily have them wishing for one.

BLACKOUT

“It started out as a normal summer night”—until the lights go out, citywide.

When it gets “too hot and sticky” inside their apartment (no fans or AC tonight), one busy family (mom, dad, two girls and a black cat) heads to the rooftop of their building, where they find light via stars and a block party “in the sky.” Other parties are happening down on the street, too. When the lights come back on, everything returns to normal, except for this family, which continues to enjoy the dark. The plot line, conveyed with just a few sentences, is simple enough, but the dramatic illustrations illuminate the story. Beginning with the intriguing cover—the silhouetted family on their rooftop under a vast, dark-blue sky dotted with Starry Night–type swirls, black is used as both a backdrop and a highlighter. Page composition effectively intermingles boxed pages and panels with double-page spreads, generating action. Brilliantly designed, with comic bits such as a portrait of Edison on a wall and the cat running from a hand shadow of a dog.

Not all young readers will have experienced a blackout, but this engaging snapshot could easily have them wishing for one. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4231-2190-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

TAR BEACH

A Harlem-born artist expands on one of her distinctive "quilt paintings" to create a marvelously evocative book that draws on her own imaginative life as a child. As explained in a concluding note, Ringgold's "Woman on a Bridge" series, including Tar Beach (reproduction included), is now in the Guggenheim. Combining the traditional association between flying and the escape of slaves to freedom with her own fantasies as a child who delighted in the sense of liberation and empowerment she felt on a rooftop from which she saw stars twinkling among the lights of nearby George Washington Bridge, Ringgold has fashioned a poignant fictional story about eight-year-old Cassie, who dreams that she can claim the bridge (and freedom and wealth) by soaring above the city; she can even own the Union Building that her skillful father helped to build—though he is often out of work because he is denied membership in the union. The triumphant soaring of imagination over reality is beautifully expressed in Ringgold's bold, vibrant paintings, newly rendered to tell this story, and with details from the quilt's glowing patchwork as a delightful continue along the bottom of each page. Beautiful, innovative, and full of the joy of one unconquerable soul.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 1991

ISBN: 0-517-58030-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1990

KITCHEN DANCE

“Scrape! Splash! Clunk! Clang!...I hear kitchen sounds,” says the curly-headed narrator as she and little brother Tito wake up to the sounds of their parents’ kitchen dance. Creeping downstairs, they see mother and father as “[s]ide by side with stacked plates they glide,” turning the routine of washing-up into a loving and even rather sexy tango. When Mama spots the two children, she and Papa sweep them up into an affectionate foursome, all singing, “¡Cómo te quiero!” Manning depicts this Afro-Latino family with verve, tilted angles and bright colors providing movement and warmth as tall, skinny Papa and slightly zaftig Mama strut their stuff. The full-bleed, double-page spreads radiate happiness in every line. It’s In the Night Kitchen decloaked; how salutary for children—protagonists and readers both—to see a set of parents loving each other with such abandon and enthusiasm. Their joyful inclusion of the kids makes this book read like one long, wonderful hug—as the narrator says, after being tucked back into bed with a couple extra besitos, “Umm, hmm.” (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-99110-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

IT IS THE WIND

Prose and pictures perfectly echo the sounds and sights of a summer night in the country. In the dark of the night, a young boy awakens to ask, “What is the noise I hear?” First, it’s an owl whispering “hooo” and “booo.” Then a dog howls “oooh” and “woooh,” followed by a gate creaking, a swing swaying and a calf calling. Next, a toad splashes and crashes, a cat hollers, a hare thumps and bumps, bugs crick, a sheet goes swish and “twish” and finally the wind sighs soporifically. Ordinary creatures and objects create a nocturnal orchestra. Artful use of repetition and internal rhyme produce a lyrical litany that will instruct and soothe young readers. Luminous, realistic watercolors washed in greens, blues, browns and yellows cast nighttime noisemakers in moonlight and shadow, capturing the dense texture of a summer night. A visual and onomatopoetic triumph. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-028191-X

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

LUCY CAN'T SLEEP

Restless, sleepless Lucy decides to climb out of bed and wander through her hushed house.

Meandering rhyme bobs up and down in this nocturnal tale, rocking readers with its subtle irregularity and soft tonality. It drifts as Lucy drifts, around her house, into closets and the fridge, onto the porch, back upstairs and, finally, into bed. Dusky blues, purples and pinks establish a muted nighttime world, one through which Lucy perambulates quite comfortably. Children who fear separation and isolation at bedtime might find eye-opening solace in Lucy’s soothing ramble. Quiet solitary play (dressing-up, snacking, listening to far-off music outside, petting the family pup) suddenly seems exactly the way to find peace and slumber. Being alone in cozy darkness ain’t so bad! Lucy’s pleasantly blank, flat face, her wide-set dot eyes and simple u-shaped smile encourage children to identify with her, easily swapping their own experiences, their own faces, with hers. Schwartz’s deceptively simple paintings and line-work deliver enough domestic details (a coiled hose, a stray doll, dirty laundry, scattered bath toys) and slightly skewed perspectives to keep readers engaged, looking into every corner of the family home (just like the nomadic Lucy).

A bedtime book with sweetly anarchic undertones (why stay in bed?), in which verse and artwork lull and soothe to soporific effect. (Picture book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59643-543-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

UNDER THE QUILT OF NIGHT

Hopkinson and Ransome team up once again with a stunning tale about one family’s trip on the Underground Railroad. More accessible to younger readers and listeners, it is a perfect companion to their Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1993). Rhythmic prose, combined with Ransome’s realistic oil paintings, follows the family of five as they escape slavery. Short, staccato phrases punctuate the running scenes and calmer, languid prose accompanies the family as they rest during the day. The story moves breathlessly as the family flees, with the slave catchers close behind. The title page shows the urgent racing feet with just the shadows of human forms reflected by the moon, embracing the family in “the quilt of night.” The young daughter watches for a safe house and is rewarded with the signal: a quilt hanging on the fence of a farmhouse. But, instead of the traditional red square in the heart of the log cabin pattern, this quilt has a blue center, signaling a safe house. The daughter knocks on the door and answers with the password phrase, “The friend of a friend.” The family spends a night, then hides in a wagon, and is nearly captured. Ransome’s evocative paintings gradually lighten as the runaways run from the blue-black darkness of the midnight escape to the glorious red-orange morning sky of promised freedom in Canada. The blue doors and windows of the church on the final page echo the blue of the quilt at the safe house, and even the geese in flight celebrate freedom. Hopkinson captures the fear of the escaping slaves, but tempers their fear with the bravery and hope that spurred them on. An author’s note gives further information about the Underground Railroad. An excellent introduction to the topic for a younger audience. (Picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82227-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Anne Schwartz/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

UNDER THE QUILT OF NIGHT

Hopkinson and Ransome team up once again with a stunning tale about one family’s trip on the Underground Railroad. More accessible to younger readers and listeners, it is a perfect companion to their Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1993). Rhythmic prose, combined with Ransome’s realistic oil paintings, follows the family of five as they escape slavery. Short, staccato phrases punctuate the running scenes and calmer, languid prose accompanies the family as they rest during the day. The story moves breathlessly as the family flees, with the slave catchers close behind. The title page shows the urgent racing feet with just the shadows of human forms reflected by the moon, embracing the family in “the quilt of night.” The young daughter watches for a safe house and is rewarded with the signal: a quilt hanging on the fence of a farmhouse. But, instead of the traditional red square in the heart of the log cabin pattern, this quilt has a blue center, signaling a safe house. The daughter knocks on the door and answers with the password phrase, “The friend of a friend.” The family spends a night, then hides in a wagon, and is nearly captured. Ransome’s evocative paintings gradually lighten as the runaways run from the blue-black darkness of the midnight escape to the glorious red-orange morning sky of promised freedom in Canada. The blue doors and windows of the church on the final page echo the blue of the quilt at the safe house, and even the geese in flight celebrate freedom. Hopkinson captures the fear of the escaping slaves, but tempers their fear with the bravery and hope that spurred them on. An author’s note gives further information about the Underground Railroad. An excellent introduction to the topic for a younger audience. (Picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82227-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Anne Schwartz/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

STARS IN THE DARKNESS

Joosse (A Houseful of Christmas, 2001, etc.) tells the story of a boy’s sadness over his older brother’s growing gang involvement and of his idea to speak out against it. The young narrator talks about the night outside his house: “Sometimes, Mama and me look down at the street and pretend it’s not the city. We shut our eyes so only a crack is open, lookin’ through our eyelashes, and pretend we live on the moon. . . . If there’s shots fired, we say it’s the light of the stars crackin’ the darkness.” He is “afraid of what’s out there,” and depends on his brother Richard sleeping by his side (the window side) to protect him. Despite the narrators protestations that “We got each other. . . . We sure don’t need no bangers,” Richard starts staying out nights and wearing colors, and so the narrator and his mother get the idea to organize neighborhood peace walks, bringing families out into the streets at night. Christie’s deep and vivid palate frames the story, playing perspectives and shapes against the joy and tension-filled faces of the characters. His naïve style of painting may not appeal to all kids, who will also be aware that this is a “teaching” story, in the vein of Eve Bunting’s Smoky Night (1994). Nevertheless, it is well executed in word and picture, and shows an aspect of urban life that is rare in picture books, but sadly common in many kids’ lives. An annotated list of resources on gang prevention is included. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8118-2168-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

ABUELOS

Lovely watercolors contribute to the charm of this story about a wintertime tradition in northern New Mexico, when the abuelos, or grandfathers, disguised as frightening old men, swoop down from the mountains on cold winter nights to scare the children into good behavior. It is all in fun, a mix of Halloween and a warm family tradition, but little Amelia is truly frightened. Her older brother Ray’s teasing doesn’t help. However, all ends happily when Amelia detects the true identity of one of the abuelos, who joins the family in a dance and celebration with mouthwatering empanadas and bizcochitos. There are echoes of O’Keeffe in Carling’s paintings, which subtly transform the snowy backdrop of hills and mesas into monster faces. Perfect for those who want a gently scary story embedded in a fascinating and little-known “bogeyman” tradition from Hispanic New Mexico. The author’s note provides additional information, and places the story in the context of universal cautionary tales. Also available in a Spanish edition (ISBN: 978-0-88899-717-3). (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-88899-716-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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