While You Are Sleeping

While You Are Sleeping
Mariana Ruiz Johnson
Chronicle Books

Words there are none, but this picture book is absolutely brimming over with stories.

We start with a view through a window of a mother reading a goodnight story to her child …

then on the next spread, tiptoeing out of the bedroom as the youngster falls asleep.

The view widens as we see both inside the house, and outside in the urban setting where fantasy and realism mix. Under a starry sky what appear to be animal characters from the storybook cavort, while in their homes people eat, chat, cook and embrace. We see a nurse and patients in a hospital, an artist working at an easel, someone with a telescope and more.

The lens widens still further revealing two animals on a jetty carrying a large object.
Keep turning and you see all six characters from the book cover have left the city and are paddling out across the ocean in a kind of long canoe (note the pattern and compare with the child’s bedspread).

They reach the shore of a wild jungle and there in the darkness, light torches and build a bonfire around which they play instruments and dance.

Then, something even more amazing takes place: the bonfire rises up into the sky becoming the morning sun.

Back in the city dawn breaks, the child awakes and a new day begins …

The magical realism of Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez come to mind as the story slips effortlessly between its real and dreamlike, surreal elements.

This is a book that demands close attention and several readings during which, new details will be discovered and fresh possibilities emerge from the dazzling folk-art hues of Johnson’s scenes.

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