flashlights and moon jumping…five books aglow with darkness

flashlight cover image lizi boydFlashlight, a wordless book by Lizi Boyd
published in 2014 by Scholastic Books

The unbroken darkness of a forest. A small boy camping out in a tent. Velvet, black, hush. Then…


His flashlight beams out an apron of light. In its white arc he spies cocoa-brown bats flitting, pussy-willow-gray mice nibbling, a couple of stripey skunks ambling. Who else can he catch in his spotlight?flashlight illustration lizi boyd

Lizi Boyd’s graceful, playful scenes are mostly whisper-gray, etched line on a creamy charcoal background. So quiet. Except where the pie-slice of light from the flashlight illuminates a perky, colorful patch of ground, sky, pond, or tree.  Adding to the sense of surprise and discovery, small cut-outs let us peek through and glimpse something to investigate on another page.

A delightful turning-of-the-tables occurs at last, when the forest creatures get ahold of the flashlight. What will they spy on? I adore this wordless book! It will tickle the fancies of children ages under-One and up. 

And P.S. My daughter, who now works at an indie bookshop in Minneapolis, tells me that Hervé Tullet, author of Press Here, has a jolly title called The Game of Light — a cardboard book full of die-cut shapes from squiggles to fish to flowers which you shine a flashlight through and project onto the walls or ceiling of a darkened bedroom. More flashlight fun!

when the sky is like lace cover imageWhen the Sky is Like Lace, by Elinor Lander Horwitz, pictures by Barbara Cooney
first published in 1975; republished by Viking in 2004

On bimulous nights when the sky is like lace, the trees eucalyptus back and forth, forth and back, swishing and swaying, swaying and swishing in the fern-deep grove at the midnight end of the when the sky is like lace illustration barbara cooneygarden.”

Reading like a Lewis Carroll tale, this “strange-splendid, plum-purple” journey includes singing otters and insulted snails, an evening of odd feasts, moonlit singing, presents, dancing, and elephant-tickling. We are advised on what not to do, including speaking to a kissing gourami, and what to do, mainly being prepared so as not to miss a thing.

What is a bimulous night? That’s for you to discover, in this tantalizing story and perhaps in the moonlight of your own back yard.

Barbara Cooney’s magnificent artwork is refined and luminous, featuring her lean, tall lines and a haze of amethyst, and three blonde little girls in white nighties, not missing a thing, on such a lovely, bimulous night. A vintage, fanciful story to capture the imaginations of ages 4 and up.

go to sleep little farm cover imageGo to Sleep, Little Farm, by Mary Lyn Ray, with art by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A bee makes his bed in a rose at day’s close, while a beaver in a bog, and a bear in a log, both settle in for a sweet night of slumber.

Even small breezes must sleep. And a secret curls up for the night in a wee ear, while dreams awake to visit rabbits and mice and the pink slippers on the rug. 

One small girl in rosy, polka-dot jammies is finding her own comfy ways to get cozy, and yawning small yawns, and getting last hugs, in the quiet, star-spangled night. 

go to sleep little farm mary lyn ray and christopher silas neal

This new bedtime book is a dreamy combination of sleepiness and novelty. Ray’s gently-rhyming text has moments of delightful unpredictability that remind me of A House is a House for Me, as well as soothing rhythms that echo Goodnight Moon. Neal’s lovely, twilight-blue illustrations have a vintage, nostalgic quality, yet are clean and contemporary at the same time. The paper is thick and satisfying. The whole package begs us to breathe deeply, snuggle down, and enjoy one last read before lights-out.  A wonderful new title to read over and over with ages Under-One and up.

the moon jumpers cover imageThe Moon Jumpers, by Janice May Udry, pictures by Maurice Sendak
published in 1959 by Harper Collins

The weary sun is falling asleep. The moon and owl and cat are primed to wake up and see the night. And the children?

The children dance out into the warm night wind, barefoot in thethe moon jumpers illustration2 maurice sendak grass. The children somersault and climb trees, and jump higher and higher, grasping at that balloon of a moon hovering over the dusky house. Pure exhileration.

“We are Moon Jumpers!” they protest, when Mother calls them in. But, in fact, it is time for bed. Time to dream while the moon sails in the sky, dream of tomorrow’s sun.

This 1960 Caldecott Honor Book was illustrated by Maurice Sendak before his Wild Things came out. His characteristic children are well-developed already here, both in spirited charcoal drawings where their lively shapes truly dance and spring with happiness that leaks right out of the pages, and in the full-color, double-page spreads of surreal, moonlit landscapes. 

the moon jumpers illustration maurice sendak

It’s a captivating joint-effort by two masters, just right for drawing in persons ages 3 and up.

a south african night cover imageA South African Night, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 1998 by Greenwillow Books

The vast city of Johannesburg, full of bustle and go, winds down. Sun sets, lights wink on, and stars fill the cobalt sky. 

It is then, hundreds of miles away, on the wide African plains, that the animals begin to stir.  

Lionesses hunt. Leopards stalk. Hippos bathe. And elephants drink, until the sun rises in orange-sherbet glory, and the people of Johannesburg begin a new day.a south african night illustration rachel isadora 001

Such a simple story, succinctly and beautifully told. It’s accompanied by some gorgeous watercolors by Rachel Isadora. Recently her books, largely set in Africa, have featured bright, vivid collage work, but this is an older title and I think it is some of her most beautiful watercolor work. The market scenes in Johannesburg, a handsome dusk scene glowing in sepia, and her regal beasts occupying the starlit savanna — each page is strong and evocative.

It’s a wonder-filled, brief look at the familiar ebb and flow of our days, in a world quite unfamiliar to most of us. Great choice for ages One and up.