While You’re Sleeping vividly reminded me of a moment when I realised as a child that there was a whole world of activity quite apart from me. It beautifully and poetically captures everything that goes on as a small child sleeps.
The book immediately intrigued me. Partly it was the gorgeously surreal cover, complete with bed floating above a coastal town. Partly it was because Mick Jackson’s adult novels are superb; his The Underground Man was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In fact, this is the first book for such a young audience for both author and illustrator, John Broadley. It is an excellent collaboration.
The purpose of the book is simple; it shows child readers that while they are asleep a multitude of people and creatures are wide awake. It starts close to the child’s experience, with people cleaning buses, bringing sausages, sorting parcels. Then it goes further afield, to other towns, to wildlife on hillsides, to ships at sea beneath a million stars. There is a shared surprise that there are shops and cafes always open (reminding me of the night-time café in The Tiger who came to Tea) and that while one child sleeps, a child somewhere else on this ceaselessly active planet will be sitting in school. The world of the book is friendly and reassuring. The words of the book are calm and wise. The book itself is an object of beauty; the cover, the end papers and the production quality all do justice to the gorgeous, richly detailed illustrations.
While You’re Sleeping could be used in class to help an understanding of day and night, and to enrich the empathy that grows as a young child sees the world through another’s eyes. But the most obvious place for this book is to be shared at bedtime. Its calm and soothing tone are perfect, and its diverse richness opens up a wonderful, wakeful world to ponder while drifting to sleep.
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