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If, like me, you know what it is to have a child who fights sleep, this book might be worth adding to your collection of bedtime reads. When my eldest daughter was small, she would often insist that she wasn't tired and it became a bit of a battle trying to get her to go to bed at a reasonable time. As a big Dr Seuss fan, she was more than happy when I introduced her to this book. I am convinced that Dr Seuss' Sleep Book helped my daughter to look forward to bedtimes. On the first page it states, "This book is to be read in bed" so my daughter quickly realised that if she wanted her Dr Seuss fix, she was going to have to cooperate, put her pyjamas on and get into bed. The book begins by introducing us to a tiny bug, "by the name of Van Vleck" who is "yawning so wide you can look down his neck." His yawns are contagious because soon the Van Vleck's friends are yawning too and their yawning spreads across the whole country - "across the wide fields, through the sleepy night air." I think it is very clever of Dr Seuss to begin the book by talking about yawns, because we all know that seeing someone else yawning, or just thinking about yawning makes you want to do the same. So the sleepy mood of the book is set from the start.
As the book progresses we are introduced to a delightful and characteristically zany assortment of sleepy characters. These include the Biffer-Baum Birds, who are building their nests, the Chippendale Mup, who has an unusual variation on an alarm clock and (my daughter's favourite) the Collapsible Frink, one of the wackiest looking creatures you could ever imagine with its long, twisty, corkscrew neck and limbs, feathery body and human face. The Collapsible Frink's bedtime routine involves - wait for it - collapsing. As the book continues, we are given the 'Who's Asleep Score' which tells us just how many creatures are currently sleeping. This increases as the book goes on until we are told at the end:
Nine zillion and two
Creatures are sleeping
How about you?"
An invitation from the great Dr Seuss to sleep is probably going to sound more appealing to most children than their parent saying, "go to sleep" for the umpteenth time. My daughter was always very keen to join the ranks of the Foona-Lagoona Baboona (cute monkey-like creatures pictured snoozing as they dangle from a tree branch) and The Jedd, who makes his bed from "pom poms he grows on his head." To his great credit, Dr Seuss makes sleep sound extremely cool. He tells us about a mad-looking device called the "Audio-Telly-O-Tally-O-Count, which is a machine "halfway between Reno and Rome" which "listens and looks into everyone's home" and keeps a tally of the number of people who are sleeping. What child wouldn't want to be added to the running total?
How could bedtime be boring when it is the time two World Champion sleep talking brothers are at their most active, or when the Curious Crandalls are sleepwalking in the hills with "assorted-sized candles'? It is also the time when the Bumble Tub Club float down the creeks in their tubs and Snorter McPhail and his Snore-a-Snort Band provide a rendition of their favourite tunes:
"This band can snore Dixie and old Swanee River
So loud it would make forty elephants shiver."
Unlike some Dr Seuss books which are designed for children who are learning to read, Dr Seuss' Sleep Book is suitable for children who are more competent readers. However, it is a great book for an adult to read aloud to a younger child. Because the book doesn't have a particular plot but simply introduces a collection of different characters, it doesn't really need to be read all the way through or in chronological order. For younger children who don't have a big attention span, you could choose a couple of pages at random and just focus on one or two creatures. Similarly, those children who can read independently but don't always want to plough through an entire book at one sitting can browse through this and pick up the book's zany atmosphere without reading more than a few pages at a time.
The text is a little complicated in places and not all words will be familiar to children. The characters' names are downright odd, for instance. Bear in mind too that this book was published in the 1960s and some of the terminology may be a bit antiquated for modern youngsters plus there are one or two Americanisms. However, I feel that, as with all the Dr Seuss books, rhyme is an effective way of encouraging reading skills, because often the rhyme provides a clue as to what the next word can be. This means that children are able to read with less faltering, a sure way to build confidence. This book is aimed at children who are fluent enough to read alone and who are starting to appreciate the vast possibilities of our rich language, the variations in rhythm and sentence structure and the way you can play with words to create different moods and effects. The tongue twister-like quality of the words makes it a very satisfying book to read aloud because the words really bounce off your tongue when you get it just right. The text helps children to become familiar with basic rules of language, such as providing examples of how the word can have the same sound but a different spelling.
What I love about the world of Dr Seuss is the way that the familiar combines with the absurd. Children are well aware that people have to wind down for sleep at the end of the day. There is nothing unusual about the Herk Hermer Sisters brushing their teeth last thing at night, for instance. However, brushing them under the falls of a great river is somewhat less conventional. It is equally bizarre to read about the Stilt Walkers who stack their stilts on the wall each night or the Hinkle Horn Honkers who hang up their horns. I really do believe that books like this help children to 'think outside the box' due to the crazy, unpredictable nature of the stories. Dr Seuss' Sleep Book pushes the boundaries of the imagination and encourages children not to limit their own creativity. My daughters were delighted by the weirdness of the writing style and they have both grown up to be quite 'alternative' in their outlooks and in their creative pursuits.
Although Dr Seuss's creatures are very strange to look at, none of them are scary, which is an important consideration when something is intended to be read at bedtime. I don't think any of the creatures would cause nightmares, although obviously all children are different in what they find scary. Most of the characters have that familiar, shaggy, Cat in the Hat type style. My daughter commented that some of the characters looked like a cross between goats and wise old men and I can see what she meant!
This book can be obtained from Amazon for £3.77 with new copies available from sellers from £0.91. For Dr Seuss fans I strongly recommend this imaginative book. The soporific rhythm and the descriptions of sleepy creatures really do make you want to snuggle down for the night and be counted by the Audio-Telly-O-Tally-O-Count. I would certainly consider it for those excited children who find it hard to go to sleep when they've got a big event in the morning, or who are overstimulated after a busy day.