Dreams Are More Real Than Bathtubs
by Susan Musgrave
illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
Published by Orca Books
1999, 32 pages
Melted Star Journey
by Nancy Hundal
illustrated by Karen Reczuch
Published by Harper Collins
1999, 36 pages
Midnight in the Mountains
by Julie Lawson
illustrated by Sheena Lott
Published by Orca Books
1998, 32 pages
To Sleep, Perchance...
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
Reading stories to young children at bedtime is a wonderful habit to get into. The bedtime story lays the groundwork for the lifetime reader. As well, it's a time to shed stress and spend a little time together. Quality time, as many would be quick to point out. A touchstone that you and your child will remember throughout your lives.
Since a lot of the reading that parents do with their children happens at bedtime, it makes sense that a lot of children's books employ sleep and dreams as a theme. Insurance, perhaps, against a child's bad dreams -- always the very worst ones. A parachute against nasty nightmares.
In Dreams Are More Real Than Bathtubs author Susan Musgrave and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay have created not so much a parachute as a moveable suit of armor. The young female heroine of Dreams Are More Real Than Bathtubs isn't afraid of her dreams: good or bad. She knows that her dreams tell her about the things she's feeling, and if she can deal with that, she can deal with anything. Even the first day of school which is looming on the not-too-distant horizon.
Musgrave is a highly respected author and poet and this work reflects that not at all. Dreams Are More Real Than Bathtubs is free-flowing and disconnected and probably wants previewing before purchase. There are children who would likely enjoy the cartoony drawings and the somewhat nonsensical story line, but I think there are probably others who would not.
By contrast, Melted Star Journey by Nancy Hundal and illustrated by Karen Reczuch is a more traditional story with more conventional illustrations. On a rainy night, a little boy, Luke, is warm and safe and dry, snuggled between his siblings, in the back of the family car.
Mom Driving, Dad yawning, brother humming. Sister sleeping -- already!
Luke fights sleep on the drive: not a valiant fight, you understand. But a pleasant one as he watches the changing streets around him and observes things through his sweet, child's eyes.
Now come the dozing skyscrapers. Boxes of yellow light and mute machines. Down a quiet street, a darker street, where an old man with a blank face leans in a doorway, not going in, not going out. Rain weeps at the window.
These are strong verbal images and Reczuch's illustrations do them justice but -- here again -- is a story with not much happening. Maybe that's okay when the place we're striving for is that gentle one before sleep.
Midnight in the Mountains takes a different approach. Here our young protagonist is too full of her vacation in the mountains to even consider sleep.
It's quiet in the mountains,
So quiet, I hear the hush of falling snow.
Mom and Dad are asleep.
Patrick is asleep.
Trouble is asleep. For once, he doesn't show.
But I'm too excited to sleep.
Tonight is my first night in the mountains!
The quiet means that she can hear things -- both real and not -- that excite her imagination. Was that an owl? A wolf? Is the white of the snow the sound of quiet? And she thinks about the fun she had on her first day in the mountains, and anticipates the fun she'll have on other days.
There is no real message in Midnight in the Mountains -- which is really sort of a relief. Instead Julie Lawson's straightforward prose and Sheena Lott's strong watercolor illustrations bring a peaceful vignette of one child's vacation. Peaceful enough, I think, to invite pleasant dreams. | April 1999
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.