So I had this crazy dream last night: I was in my apartment but it wasn’t, like, my apartment, and I had baby koalas tucked under each arm and, what’s that? There’s nothing more tedious than listening to someone describe one of their dreams? Right. Luckily, the same isn’t true for picture books, whole shelves of which are devoted to celebrating the limitless possibilities that await once REM sleep sets in.
A recent favorite of mine in this category is Turn on the Night by Brazil-born illustrator Geraldo Valério, out this month from Groundwood Books, which zooms into the bedroom of a sleeping girl only to zip right back outdoors as she transforms into a giant wolflike dog (doglike wolf?) and embarks on a midnight mission with a pair of animal accomplices.
I’ll go ahead and venture that this isn’t really a book aimed at lulling little ones into slumber. For starters, it’s wordless, so there are no singsong rhymes involving night, light, dream, and gleam here. Then there is Valério’s palette, rich with electric blues, intense pea greens, and eerie shades of chartreuse. As a result, the girl’s bedroom looks about as restful as the lurid “great green room” of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon or van Gogh’s jittery “Bedroom in Arles.” This, Valério suggests, is not a place for peaceful sleeping, but where adventures can happen.
And they do: readers move through the book as though through a silent movie (definitely not a black-and-white one), and every page turn holds a surprise, starting with the girl’s sudden, startling transformation. After leaping out the window, the girl-as-wolf rounds up a chicken and a deer, and together they bound across wide expanses of bright green grass on their way to collect a star from the sky, which they use to bring celestial light to the girl’s room. At several points during the journey, Valério freezes the animals in mid-leap as their elongated, exaggerated bodies bend across an open spread. Each of these scenes is like a photograph, capturing moments of pure exhilaration and joy.
Beyond the dazzle of Valério’s artwork, the wordlessness of the story lets children create their own narratives and contemplate repeating imagery involving dogs, chickens, deer, and stars. And who knows, some of the questions and conversations that arise might just be enough to send some of them off into their own dreams, too.