The picture book is a unique and fascinating art form. In the case of an author and illustrator collaboration (as opposed to the all-encompassing author-illustrator), a writer presents a text and the illustrator clarifies and amplifies that text, extending the story beyond the words on the page. Maurice Sendak called this “seamlessness,” the perfect marriage of words and pictures.
If you’re going to kick back and watch an artist like Caldecott Honor-winner Pamela Zagarenski extend the text of a picture book, as she’s done in Mary Logue’s Sleep Like a Tiger, you should give yourself an ample amount of time to soak in all the details and fully appreciate what she brings to the story.
But let’s start with the story itself, the text.
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This is Logue’s picture book debut, though she’s penned books for both adults and teens. She teaches at Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. This is, as you can tell from the title, a bed-time book.
And I love what she’s done. She tells the story of a young girl who doesn’t want to go to sleep. Nothing new under the sun there. But it’s the parents’ response to the girl that stands out here. First, “[t]hey nodded their heads and said she didn’t have to go to sleep. But she had to put her pajamas on.” The girl does as she’s asked, but she keeps announcing how very awake she is. Her parents say this is fine, but that she should wash her face, brush her teeth, and so on.
“So she did,” Logue writes. “It felt good to be nice and clean.” I love that addition. Children act like they don’t want to clean up before bed, but… well, it’s true that it feels pretty great to be clean after a grungy day of play. I’d bet money even rowdy children have that snug feeling.
In a 2009 New Yorker article about how picture books reflect our culture’s ever-present helicopter parenting, Daniel Zalewski wrote that children have “executive authority” in the home these days: Sure, Max chased his dog with a fork in Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece, but he was sent to bed without any supper. When Ian Falconer’s Olivia paints her bedroom walls after seeing Jackson Pollock’s paintings at the Met, she’s merely given a brief timeout, then returns to ruling the roost in her diva way.
This essay crossed my mind when I read this, but I don’t think that’s what these parents are doing. Instead of indulging, as Zalewski writes about, they are gently disciplining. They’re not overreacting to their daughter’s obstinacy about bed-time. They’re just cleverly coercing her into it—without her realizing they are. Zagarenski even gives everyone a crown here: In this royal family, everyone has a say.
And those mixed-media illustrations? Always one to fill up each inch of a spread with endlessly appealing textures, busy (but not distracting) lines, and tons of tiny, rewarding details, Zagarenski takes Logue’s well-crafted story and turns it up to eleven. Observant readers will be abundantly rewarded.
When Logue opens the book with “Once there was a little girl who didn’t want to go to sleep even though the sun had gone away,” eagle eyes will note that a small tiger is walking off with the sun on his back. Those same eagle eyes will have fun spotting the sun and tiger elsewhere in the book. Zagarenski also puts to use some of her favorite motifs, which her fans will spot – wheels, moons, nature.
As the parents and the girl name off nocturnal animals and the various ways they sleep, Zagarenski shows the girl sleeping just as they do: “The little girl’s bed was warm and cozy, a cocoon of sheets, a nest of blankets.” It’s all about children’s feelings of security and warmth at the hands of the adults in their lives, and both author and illustrator make it sing.
“You can stay awake all night long,” the parents tell her. Readers may want to do the same, poring over this magical book.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion 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.
SLEEP LIKE A TIGER. Copyright © 2012 by Mary Logue. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Pamela Zagarenski. Published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher.