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Twenty Yawns

twenty-yawnsHaving won a 2015 Caldecott honor for Nana in the City, Lauren Castillo will surely be on the Caldecott committee’s radar. This is a very different book in theme and even in palette, but once again she does here what she does best: keep the focus tightly on the child’s experience, and get it just right.

From the title, it’s clear this is a bedtime book. It’s unusual in a bedtime story to have so much of the action take place during the day, but here it’s effective—and probably necessary—in order to viscerally impress upon readers what a tiring (but grand) day Lucy and her parents have had.

Two sweeping double-page spreads capture first the whole tropical beach scene and the majestic sunset, yet both keep our attention on the family. In the beach scene, only Lucy and her parents are in shown in differentiating colors—the other beachgoers are shown as a uniform gray-brown; and in the truly glorious sunset spread, our attention is drawn by the bright yellow square in the bottom right corner, showing Lucy and her mom looking out her bedroom window. For me that focus really helps with the transition to the smaller, inside-the-house bedtime story that follows. (It also helps that the series of twenty “yawn”s begins before they go inside.)

Castillo’s art captures that surreal feeling I remember from my own childhood, when you are awake in the middle of the night (or at least what feels like the middle of the night), and everyone else is asleep. That “mysterious” feeling can be disconcerting, and in the spread where Smiley’s text says, “She looked around. Everyone in the pictures seemed to be watching her—Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Elizabeth, Mom, and Dad,” Lucy looks small, apprehensive, and alone.  See the tense curve of her back; how she’s pushed up against the edge of the page; the moonlight illuminating her face with that one dot of an eye that Castillo imbues with so much expression and emotion.

Depicting stuffed animals as characters/friends can be tricky, but I think Castillo gets the animate/non-animate balance exactly right. If you look closely, you will see that although each stuffed animal has a definite expression on its face, and lends each one a kind of personality, those expressions don’t change until the penultimate spread, where they all close their eyes, tucked up in bed with Lucy. It’s the spread on which the yawns recommence. (And I love that little tiny yawn from the baby kangaroo.) This spread, homey and contained, leads beautifully to the next one, which brings Lucy’s whole world into line with her state of mind, with yawns from her family, the character in her book, and even the moon. And then the final page, which brings us back to Lucy, cozily contained in a circular spot illustration, just her and her bear…and, finally, sleep. Perfect.

I’m not going to comment on the medium Castillo used here, because I am not really sure what “created digitally with painted textures” entails, and also because I am a firm believer in looking at the final product, not the artist’s process, when it comes to Caldecott consideration. To me, the art looks like it was done with crayons and/or pastels, and that all that texture brings both a solidity and a hominess to the art that’s appropriate for this child-focused story.

So that’s me on Twenty Yawns. What will happen when this book is scrutinized under the infamous Caldecott committee microscope? (I say this every year, but if you want to get a hilarious and probably very true-in-spirit description of what happens inside Caldecott meetings, check out Jon Klassen’s 2013 Caldecott acceptance speech, where he describes the committee as a “group of cloaked and hooded figures…assembled entirely to notice things.”) There is maybe an issue with the shadows cast by the sun: on one spread the shadows are long, then on the next page shorter again, and then in the next illustration long again (if I’m seeing that correctly). Also, where did Mom go? In one illustration, Mom is sleeping in the rocking chair in Lucy’s bedroom; the next time we see the rocking chair, it’s empty. (Has Mom sleepwalked off to bed, not noticing that Lucy is still awake? Or is she still there, but in Lucy’s mind, because she’s asleep, not a force to alleviate Lucy’s sense of aloneness? Although: Lucy can see Dad in the living room, though he’s asleep too…) And, not to be too persnickety—will there be an issue with counting the “yawn”s? Will somebody balk at counting the word “yawned” as well as “yawn” in the total of 20? Personally, I think it all works, but I did say “microscope”…


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.



  1. “Having won a 2015 Caldecott honor for Nana in the City, Lauren Castillo will surely be on the Caldecott committee’s radar.”

    I completely concur and would pose to add that her collaboration last year with the renowned Eve Bunting on the emotionally overwhelming YARD SALE can only enhance the committee’s perception. A picture book humanist extraordinaire, Castillo’s thick lines have always been a matter of urgency for the young ones, but her profound familial interactions seem to speak to older kids and adults as well. The beach, always an ultimate location for bonding is seen here several times in beathtaking panoramas to understote those more intimate noctural interludes where she is visited by the benign family members she so adores. Ms. Castillo has pulled off a hat trick over the past three years, and this extraordinary book could way float the committe’s boat. At the very least it confirms that Castillo has now taken the mantle of supreme picture book humanist.

    Lovely, thoughtful review here.

  2. Jill Bean says:

    I love Lauren’s art and think this book has many beautiful spreads, especially the setting sun – such vibrant colors. She seems to have a knack for night time and sleeping children as well. I can’t wait to see It’s Not Time for Sleeping in November. Watching some of her work on that book that she shared along the way, leads me to think it will be even more spectacular. The disappearance of the mom in Twenty Yawns does really bother me. I read and reread the book several times trying to understand where she went. To me, it’s a deal-breaker.

  3. Susan Dailey says:

    Thanks for the great review. I think a strength of this book is all the circular illus. that give this book such a comforting feeling, especially when juxtaposed with the illus. when Lucy realizes everyone else is asleep.I also love that little foot heading off the page on the spread where Dad’s sleeping.

    But that “microscope” might notice that the text is a little difficult to read on the spread where Lucy pulls the animals off the shelf. And does the rocking chair in the room seem to change position? On one spread it seems to be sideways, but usually seems to face the bed. Small details in a warm, wonderful addition to the bedtime books genre.

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