Written and Illustrated by Barney Saltzberg
Disney Hyperion Books, 2014
It was late and it was quiet, and everyone in the bamboo grove was sleeping…everyone except…Chengdu.
The plot in a nutshell: A panda has trouble falling asleep
Chengdu wants to go to sleep, but just can’t seem to manage it. He tries changing position and moving to a new place on the bamboo tree and even hanging upside down, all with no success. So he climbs up several branches and then onto his brother’s back. The book ends with everyone in the bamboo grove sleeping, except for Chengdu’s brother Yuan.
I chose to review this book on a day after a night with very little sleep myself, so I am sympathizing with poor Chengdu, which is easy to do. Author/illustrator Barney Saltzberg was inspired by photographs taken by his wife during a trip to China and he makes Chengdu a character you immediately feel for, from the minute you see his wide awake eyes, looking right at you, as though asking for your help. The plot, as you can see above, is simple enough to be described in just a few sentences. The story is really nothing more than Chengdu’s struggle to go to sleep and it’s the artwork that keeps it interesting.
The illustrations, in pencil and watercolor, manage to make the pictures very soothing, while also making them amusing and cute. A few of the pages even fold out (to one side or down at the bottom) to extend the picture beyond what we originally see. I always think this is a neat feature when I see it in a picture book, but I wonder how many of these types of pages get torn or mashed up when the book is closed. I wished there had been a little more substance to the story, but I enjoyed the artwork quite a bit. This may be a good one to read to little ones who have trouble settling down at night.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that sometimes it’s just easier to fall asleep near someone familiar.