Written and Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
Little, Brown and Company, 2015
The plot in a nutshell: A boy and his cat explore in the middle of the night.
A boy wakes up when his cat, Sylvie, comes into his room in the middle of the night. He’s not sure whether it’s too late or too early, but he follows Sylvie through the darkened house, where everyone else is sleeping. They go outside, into the night world, where everything seems different. The shadows look strange and the flowers are colorless. The animals in the backyard tell him, “It’s almost here.” Then, slowly, a light starts to brighten the sky and the shadows drift away. The animals leave the yard, heading to their homes to sleep. The sun rises in the sky, bathing everything in a bright glow. Sylvie the cat and all the birds wish the sun good morning and the boy joins in.
In an author’s note in the back of the book, author/illustrator Mordicai Gerstein shares the story behind this book and, like many such notes, it gave me a greater appreciation of the story and I had to go read it again right away. When Mr. Gerstein was a boy, he once had to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and when he looked out into the darkness, he didn’t recognize his backyard so he declared it to be the night world. And although this story definitely captures the mystery and strangeness of darkness, it never presents it as anything to be afraid of, which is important. Instead, it’s like a quiet inhalation before the cleansing breath of dawn.
The artwork is done in acrylic, pen and ink and colored pencil on gray paper and, as you may imagine, most of it is dark and colorless. When the sun starts to rise, the color seeps in little by little and I wouldn’t be surprised to find young readers wanting to wake up early to watch a sunrise for real to see if it really happens like that. The shadows in the dark backyard are drawn in vague shapes at first, almost as though the book is letting us take a moment for our eyes to adjust to the darkness like they would in real life. The coming of a new day is presented as such an incredible thing here that it’s a very optimistic realization that it is a daily occurrence, which makes the book feel very hopeful and positive.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the middle of the night can feel a little strange, but every night is followed by a morning and a bright new day.