Any parent looking for a book to share with their child at bedtime has more than enough stories from which to choose. The bed-time book is a staple, and bookstore and library shelves are filled with them, some worth their salt and others, better left untouched. Enter Stories of the Night, a new bed-time import from Kitty Crowther, an Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award recipient. Delightfully offbeat, it’s one that just may enter that stack of favorite bed-time books, ones that get repeated requests.
This Swedish import was originally published last year; the English edition was translated by Sam McCullen. It’s a set of three stories, bookended by Mother Bear and Little Bear. The small bear begs his mother for three stories before bed, even saying “please” three times while asking. When she asks which story he would like first, he chooses “the one that says it’s time to go to sleep.” Practical one, isn’t he?
The first story is about a friendly, elderly Night Guardian, who looks like she stepped straight out of a tale by Tove Jansson; she lives deep in the forest, her long hair trailing the ground. When she bangs her gong, the forest creatures know it’s time to sleep, even if some of them try valiantly to put it off a while. On she glides through the trees, gently hitting her gong and reminding the animals that they can “count on the stars to lead us into tomorrow.” When she ends up at home, ready herself for sleep, she launches into her own ritual — hitting the gong delicately again, choosing a night star of her own, and dozing off. She doesn’t need anyone else to tell her when to sleep, thanks very much. She’s got this covered, this matriarch of the night woods.
I like the straightforward, direct, and altogether unfussy style of both Crowther’s and the translator’s words. For instance, the second tale is of “a little girl with a sword who gets lost.” Here, we meet Zhora, who was sent out to pick berries and is looking specifically for a dark blackberry. After finding a large, succulent one, she gets lost in the forest but eventually sleeps overnight with her friend Jacko Mollo, a bat. While he hangs over her, she sleeps “snuggly and warm” under a leaf, and at that moment, though Zhora can’t wait to show her family the fruit she found, “being here was perfect.”
Crowther puts to use a primarily vivid pink palette throughout this set of stories, almost electric in hue. A little birdy tells me the art was at least partially depicted via make-up, of all the things. Perhaps this vivid pink is a rouge, meant to emphasize one’s cheekbones but, here, bringing to life a magical forest of talking creatures and the humans who can understand them. Her interior scenes before and after the three stories, with Mother Bear and Little Bear, are contained and cozy, yet each story in the book also ends with the main character snuggly-warm in bed (whether it’s a leaf bed or otherwise).
That includes the protagonist of the last story, “the one with the man in a big coat who never sleeps.” His home is a nest that once belonged to a grumpy owl. When he can’t get any shut-eye, he heads out into the woods to “look for some sleep.” His otter friend, who writes poems onto stones and chucks them into the ocean, suggests he take a swim. Leaving his big coat on, he swims, finds one of his friend’s poem-stones, and then heads home to finally fall asleep in his own bed. Not only does the man, as well as the characters in the other stories, fall asleep cozy and warm, but he also falls asleep fulfilled and happy, this time knowing that he enjoyed his swim, that he has a stone-poem to read later, and that he has a wonderful friend — or maybe all of the above.
I love all of this — the quirky characters, who aren’t off-the-wall precious; poems on stones, whose verses make their way into the depths of the sea; the tiny girl with her fierce sword, blackberry-bound; and the book’s distinctive, eye-popping palette. Best of all, as Mother Bear finally puts her son to sleep, all of the main characters from the stories appear and, in a couple of wordless spreads, join Little Bear in bed. Now, they’re all snuggly-warm and off to sleep.
This American edition publishes in early September. Truly quirky and endearing, it will stand out on shelves. Night-night, dear.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
STORIES OF THE NIGHT. English-language edition © Gecko Press Ltd 2018. Text and illustrations © Kitty Crowther 2017. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.