The Insomniacs


Written by Karina Wolf, Illustrated by the Brothers Hilts

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012

The Insomniacs weren’t always a night family.  But when Mrs. Insomniac found a new job, Mother, Father, and little Mika traveled twelve time zones to their new home.

The plot in a nutshell:  A family copes with a change in time zone by adjusting their body’s timeclocks.

The Insomniac family is a pretty normal family until Mrs. Insomniac gets a new job on the other side of the world, twelve time zones away.  When they arrive at their new home, their sleep schedule is reversed and they find themselves awake all night and sleeping during the day.  Mother and Father have difficulty at work and the headmistress at little Mika’s school suspects that she has sleeping sickness.  The family tries several different ways to get to sleep at the right time, but nothing helps.  They go into the woods to see if they can get any advice from bears, since they are able to sleep all winter. Instead, they realize that there are lots of nocturnal animals who do very well staying up all night, which prompts them to embrace this new schedule.  Mother and Father do their work during the nighttime and Mika takes night school remotely.  Ultimately, they come to love the nighttime.

Maybe they should have thought about buying a chair for Mika.

Maybe they should have thought about buying a chair for Mika.

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of the dark and I can’t help wondering how I would have felt about this book, which celebrates everything about the nighttime.  Somehow, I think you find yourself envying the Insomniacs a little by the end of the story.  Author Karina Wolf makes their nocturnal lives seem very lovely and not at all as weird as you might think.  Her description of the family moonbathing and returning home on quiet streets was surprisingly peaceful.  I like that the family occasionally opens the door to look at the sunlight and that this only reaffirms their enjoyment of the night.  This is Ms. Wolf’s first picture book and I hope she has more on the way.

One of the contributing factors to the beauty of the family’s new life is the artwork, which creates a nice mix of darkness and light, using the contrast in the colors to help underscore the contrast between the daytime and nighttime.  Ben and Sean Hilts are artists (and yes, brothers) who work together and this is their first picture book as well.  The illustrations are done in pencil and charcoal, with computer assistance.   Their use of patterns and shadows are reminiscent of Edward Gorey, which would ordinarily mean the artwork had a morose tone, but when paired with this story, it comes across as almost whimsical instead.  It’s one of those books where the story and the artwork are perfectly paired.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that life is always handing you change and the most successful people are the ones who can learn to roll with the punches.


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