cover image Sleeping Boy

Sleeping Boy

Sonia Craddock. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81763-2

The late Craddock's sophisticated reworking of the Sleeping Beauty story is nothing short of astonishing, both in the vitality of its prose and its haunting imagery. The story begins in turn-of-the-century Berlin, where Knabe Rosen's birth is being celebrated. Gore's (Lucy Dove) ethereal artwork shows two rose-hued insets of the joyous parents and newborn; peeking through at the outer edges, however, are darkened street scenes seemingly spun from spiderwebs. Prose and pictures in tandem convey the tension between life within the home and life without. Major Krieg (the German word for war), who is left out of the party, nonetheless turns up to play the part of the malevolent fairy and bestow a curse on the child: on his 16th birthday the sound of drums will entice Knabe into the army, never to return. In the only pair of full-bleed paintings, Gore brilliantly contrasts first the loving father and mother gently cradling the baby, all of his relatives encircling him like a band of angels; then just a few pages later Major Krieg's black gloved fingers hold the baby aloft, the baby's head cropped at the top of the page and the background a deep blood red. Fortunately, Tante Taube (the German word for dove) mitigates this dire prediction with her blessing: instead of marching off to war, when Knabe hears the drums he will fall asleep ""until PEACE comes to Berlin."" As the household slumbers, swept up in the spell, Gore's moody, ethereal acrylics are scattered across the pages like a series of half-remembered snapshots, their surfaces hazy, their images indistinct. He conjures the darkly ominous talismans of war: barbed wire and guard dogs; the steel-spiked helmets of Kaiser Wilhelm's troops; the swastika and jackboots of Hitler's army. The house itself becomes entombed in the Berlin Wall. Finally, when peace comes, the wall comes down and the family awakens to celebrate their son's 16th birthday. Part modern-day fairy tale, part Brothers Grimm, part allegory, this is an ambitious, eerie and visually stunning work for all ages. Ages 6-9. (Oct.)