Book #222: Sleep Like a Tiger

Sleep Like a Tiger -- coverI just wrote about another book by this same illustrator this week, but this one was too good to pass up. How did I miss Sleep Like a Tiger?  This lovely piece joins my Top Twenty Best Children’s Books Ever list.  That is, if I ever get a chance to break down these hundreds of reviews into actual usable and accessible lists.  Note to self: Break down hundreds of reviews into usable and accessible lists.

If I had to bet on a current book (this one was published in 2012) becoming a classic, outliving all other current picture books, and joining other giants like The Runaway Bunny  or Love You Forever,  I’d be inclined to wager that Sleep Like a Tiger joins the pantheon. The language is beautiful (poetry, really, and written by the poet Mary Logue), the context is universal, and the illustrations, by Pamela Zagarenski, are not only unique yet familiar, they are also magical and fantastic. Good combo.

The story is about a little girl who doesn’t want to go to sleep.

She told her mother, “I’m not tired.”
She told her father, “I’m just not sleepy.”
They nodded their heads
and said she didn’t have
to go to sleep.
But she had to put
her pajamas on.

Look at the illustration that accompanies this text. Aren’t we all, every last parental one of us, a faltering pawn in the face of an endless stream of midget demands?  It it incessant.  And annoying.  Yet still, we must remain calm.

Sleep Like a Tiger -- faltering parents

So goes the story. Her parents tell her to wash her face and brush her teeth, and then, “because she loved climbing into her bed, she did, stretching her toes down under the crisp sheets, lying as still as an otter floating in a stream.”

Look at that otter.  If this were a Facebook post I’d be writing LOVE in the comment section.

[otter picture coming soon, my camera just broke]

The girl asks if everything in the world goes to sleep. Her parents say yes. The dog, they say, is sleeping right now, “curled up in a ball on the couch, where he’s not supposed to be.”  They tell her that the cat is asleep in front of the fireplace and that bats sleep upside down in the barn.

Do whales sleep, the girl wants to know.

Yes. They swim slowly around and around
in a large circle in the ocean and sleep.

Sleep Like a Tiger -- whale

Tiny snails curl up like a cinnamon roll inside their shell.  Bears make a cozy den. And so forth.

Eventually the girl’s parents leave her alone in her bed.  The language and illustrations that come next are so simple, so beautiful, they bring one back to those moments when we were little, lying by ourselves in our beds, waiting and waiting for sleep:

The little girl’s bed was warm
and cozy,
a cocoon of sheets,
a nest of blankets.
Unlike the dog on the couch,
she was right where
she was supposed to be.
She wriggled down under
the covers until she found
the warmest spot,
like the cat in front
of the fire.
She folded her arms
like the wings of a bat…

…and so it goes until we have gone through all the animals she discussed with her parents in the previous pages, including the tiger, who incidentally finds shade, closes his eyes and, in order to stay strong, also goes to sleep.

There’s immense generosity in this book. Look at the way the dog sleeps peacefully on the sofa, even though he’s not supposed to be there. Who would move him? Not these nice parents. They leave their daughter’s bedroom door open a crack, too.

Sleep Like a Tiger -- the dog

I could carry on about this book for a while. There’s so much emotion in these pages, in the faces of the girl’s parents, in the face of the sleeping tiger. But there’s a fantastic element, too, and you see it all over — in the crazy patterns of the background, in the picture of the little girl lying asleep in a huge nest, in the tops of whales. And why are bees buzzing around those whale?  Since when does a whale have wheels?  They need to hire Pamela Zagarenski to illustrate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

If you buy five children’s books this year, this should be one of them.  It’s really exquisite.  ABZ

Sleep Like a Tiger -- nest

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