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Review of Twenty Yawns

smiley_twenty yawnsstar2 Twenty Yawns
by Jane Smiley; 
illus. by Lauren Castillo
Preschool    Two Lions    32 pp.
4/16    978-1-4778-2635-5    $17.99    g

Lucy and her parents stay late at the beach, playing in the waves, walking the length of the shore, rolling down dunes, building a sandcastle. Everyone is happily worn out, and Mom decrees an early bedtime. So far, so predictable — but then: Mom falls asleep in the middle of reading Lucy a story. “Suddenly, Lucy was wide awake.” With the silvery moonlight making everyday objects look mysterious (even the family pictures taped up on her bedroom wall seem to be looking at her), Lucy needs her bear, Molasses. The process of fetching him and her other stuffed animals and tucking them into bed comforts and settles Lucy, and she soon falls asleep. There’s so much right about this picture book, Pulitzer Prize–winning (for A Thousand Acres) Smiley’s first. Together, her text and Castillo’s digital illustrations first establish a warm family dynamic (an interracial family, by the way) and then, in that context, show a small child able to cope with an unfamiliar situation on her own. Smiley evinces a deep understanding of a child’s sensibilities, from Lucy thinking that her stuffed animals look lonely to her imagination animating the pictures on her wall. Castillo’s color-saturated illustrations capture every bit of the joy of the family’s busy beach day; the shivery strangeness of being the only one awake in the house; and the love and warmth that permeate all the interactions here. And the twenty yawns (yes, you can count them) are pure genius: whether from expected or unexpected sources, they are incorporated perfectly into the story.

From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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