In this illustrated children’s book, a young boy can’t sleep until he uses his imagination.
One night Sam, a boy with a thick shock of brown hair, just can’t get any shut-eye. Not even counting sheep helps. Then he gets a “crazy thought”: what if he just pretends to be sleeping? In lines that become a repeated motif throughout the book, “Sam took a breath, and shut his eyes tight / He thought ten miles left, and ten miles right.” Here, as throughout, author/illustrator Manousos (Sophia’s Turn, 2014, etc.) shows skill with rhyme and meter. Sam soon falls headfirst into the Land of Reverse, where everything is backward, upside down, or contradictory. (In a great touch, even the page numbers are upside down.) As the youngster begins to explore, a handstanding man advises him that “Wherever you’re going, you really are not.” Traffic runs on the sidewalks, mice chase cats, and cats chase dogs. Even Sam’s body parts rearrange themselves: “His feet were his hands, and he had tiny eyes. / His head, upside down, was enormous in size!” He later becomes a zoo exhibit, fed by animals; he swims underground as fish walk on land; and he meets the handstanding man again. Eventually, Sam returns to his bed, “backward thoughts filling his head” but happy that he’s found a new way to go to sleep. Most books aimed at helping children sleep are written specifically for preschoolers, so Manousos ably addresses a gap in the literature by aiming his message at middle-grade kids. His advice is also on-point—using your imagination, so long as it doesn’t stoke anxiety, can actually help kids this age fall asleep, according to experts. That said, the book could have included a more comprehensive list of sleep-time tips, including, for example, turning off one’s personal electronic devices at night. Still, Sam’s adventures are goofy and pleasing, and the illustrations include clever touches, such as revealing the protagonist’s love for baseball in his bedroom decorations.
An often enjoyable tale for middle graders, although more sleeping advice would have been useful.