I had dinner with a friend the other night, who is, like me, the mother of a thirteen-year-old. We talked about how one of our daughters (that would be mine) shows no signs of wanting to grow up. My friend told me that, when she was a child, she longed to be an adult. I hear my adult friends now say they wish they could be a child again, my friend said, but I hated the lack of freedom I had then.
There’s truth to that. Children are routinely patronized and often condescended to, and they have little to no control of their lives. But there are some undeniable joys to childhood. One of those is being cradled in the arms of a parent, if you’re lucky enough to have a loving one. In part, this is what Akiko Miyakoshi’s The Way Home in the Night, released last month, is about.
Originally released in Japan in 2015, we see on the title page a mother rabbit with a bunny in her arms. They are walking down a street at night. The bunny hugs its mother, head resting on her shoulder. They head home: “My mother carries me through the quiet streets.” The bunny may be weary, but there’s so much to see, hear, and smell. The young bunny sees the neighbors’ lights in the windows, soaks in the ambient sounds, smells a pie baking, and hears what sounds like a TV and a party. The young bunny even sees “someone saying goodbye” in one apartment. These are anthropomorphic creatures, living as if humans, and the bunny gets a quick glimpse into their lives after the sun’s gone down.
The bunny’s father meets them on the street, and when they are home, tucks the very tired bunny in. But what about all those people seen on the way home? The bunny, lying in bed, wonders about them. “Is the pie ready to be shared?” Is that party over? Has everyone turned off their lights, since it is night-time? The bunny, who narrates this story, even hears footsteps in the street. We then see, shuffling down the street, the creature who had been saying goodbye to another creature earlier. Suitcase in hand, she boards a train. She is pensive, contemplative, and possibly even sad. Her destiny is a mystery, but “every night,” the book closes, “we all go home to bed.”
This book is beautiful. Granted, I’m partial to charcoal, my favorite medium in picture books; Miyakoshi’s evocative and textured artwork here was rendered in charcoal, pencil, and acrylic gouache, and I love how the Kirkus review notes that the ambience she creates, particularly when the bunny is home and in bed, is “deliciously palpable.”
Through it all, Miyakoshi captures so much mystery in 40 pages – the wonders in the dark; the dream-like qualities of the time between being awake and succumbing to sleep; the haunting beauty of night’s shadows and the goings-on on the other side of one’s window; and the comfort and security of being wrapped in a doting parent’s arms.
But her greatest achievement here may be that we readers feel as if we are right there with the bunny, being carried through the city shadows at night and wondering about the world around us. With playful perspectives, occasional full-bleed spreads, and a gentle pacing, we experience it first-hand.
In fact, the pacing of the book is so spot-on, winding down as it does and ending with a bunny who is finally asleep (“Goodnight” is the book’s final word), that it makes for one of the most successful bedtime books I’ve seen in a long while. “I can't help thinking,” wrote author-illustrator Sophie Blackall at the New York Times Book Review (the one that made me seek this book out), “that reading a picture book like this with a child at bedtime could redeem any day.”
Absolutely dreamy. Don’t miss it.
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.