Stop That Yawn!

This is not a bedtime story. On the cover are yawning people and animals — they’re already half asleep! — but in the middle of them all is a little girl and her cat, and they’re wide awake. The girl has brown skin and locs, and everything about her, from her bright eyes and rosy cheeks to her red dress and headband, radiates energy and determination. Through a speech balloon we, the readers, know that she is telling us to STOP THAT YAWN!

The front endpapers welcome us to Sleepytown, where it is nighttime and everyone is asleep. The girl doesn’t like this. In the lower right-hand corner, BLAM!! go her cymbals and HONK goes the cat’s horn — to rouse the town. They continue playing cymbals and horns on the verso of the title page, and on the title page the girl is standing on her bed and instructing her granny to STOP THAT YAWN!

We turn the page and learn that this is Gabby Wild and it’s her bedtime, but because sleeping is so boring, she convinces Granny to take her away from Sleepytown. We see in paneled layouts that Gabby and Granny (and cat) use the bed-turned-airplane to jet out from the bedroom to Never Sleeping City. Even though it’s late, Never Sleeping City is bustling with lights, music, people, even animals. And it’s never too late for pickles or ice cream in Never Sleeping City. Gabby’s going to party allll night.

This is a picture book with graphic novel elements, namely paneled layouts and visual text features (narrative boxes, speech balloons, and sound effects). The illustrations, rendered in croquille and india ink on bristol board and colored digitally, are a mixture of full-page and double-page illustrations and round-cornered panels. Muted blues dominate the illustrations, which in turn firmly establish the mood and nighttime setting and make the illustrations dreamlike. In terms of Caldecott criteria, this showcases illustrator LeUyen Pham’s “excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept” and “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme, or concept.”

Pham’s “delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood, or information through the pictures” is in her use of paneled layouts to subtly guide readers through the story. Panels are used to emphasize small gestures, changes in facial expressions, and other nuances, as well as to emphasize certain moments and scenes. Ultimately, it is the seamless combination of picture-book and graphic-novel techniques that stands out as Pham’s “excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.”

An example is when Gabby and Granny are up on the coffee-cup Ferris wheel in the Never Sleeping City Carnival. Four square panels on one page stretch out a quiet, important scene: Granny notices the cozy, quiet, peaceful moon. Her mouth opens and grows wider and wider. Gabby tries her best to stop it but, in the panel on the next spread, Granny unleashes a yawn. The yawn is large and misty blue; it has a sleepy face of its own and is a powerful character in this story. The contagious yawn is on the loose! Gabby tries to stop it by swishing her click-clacky hair, tweeting a whistle, high-fiving leaves, and rat-a-tat-tat-ing drum sticks.

Nothing works; whomever the yawn touches falls under its spell. It spreads quickly, and soon everyone in the Never Sleeping City Carnival, Midnight Marching Band, and All-Nite Opera is yawning and falling asleep. Gabby rushes to the Never Sleeping City Hall to warn the Never Sleeping Mayor. In three horizontal panels on one page, a confused Mayor watches as the yawn curls around each person in her office and Gabby tries to wake them up, to no avail. On the recto panel, we see the yawn take hold of the Mayor.

There is an interactive twist toward the end of the book. In a double-page spread, Gabby turns her horrified expression to us, the readers. We’ve been caught yawning too! “YOU are NOT sleepy, right?” Gabby reminds us: “This is NOT a bedtime story!” This effective engagement with the book’s young audience is an example of Pham’s “excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.”

Now everyone in Never Sleeping City is asleep, and even we, the readers, “look all cozy and quiet and peaceful.” Four square panels stretch out another quiet, important moment: Gabby tries to grit her teeth and seal her lips as the yawn swirls around her. In the full-page illustration on the recto, she succumbs to a yawn. In the end, she decides to snuggle into Granny’s arms and continue her partying in her dreams.

Finally, the back endpapers show us the transformed landscape of Never Sleeping City. With its lights turned off and shops closed, it is now Ever Sleeping City. Good night!
Tarie Sabido
Tarie Sabido
Tarie Sabido is the Chair of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People and co-founder of the Filipino ReaderCon. She blogs about Asian children's and young adult books at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind (
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Sam Juliano

Terrific review here!!!!

Posted : Jan 11, 2019 04:00

Sam Juliano

he credo of Stop That Yawn! is nonetheless a mission to stop the yawn from compromising the reputation of a city that never sleeps, one where concerts, carnivals, opera house and eateries among other round-the-clock establishments operate well into the night. A young African-American girl has had her fill of bedtime, and she attempts to enact a 24-7 much as Elmo did when he wished Christmas would fall on every day of the year, and basically the results are the same. The metaphorical yawn presented to children as an expanding pestilence rather than an inevitable result of staying up into the wee-hours of the morning has a cumulative effect, one where exposure without exception leads to physical surrender. Gabby Wild came around to the position that bedtime was a major bore, and a waste of time that would be so much better spent doing exciting and fulfilling things. Heck, with roughly a third of one’s time in horizontal mode one can hypothetically agree with this spirited girl’s view of the wasted hours invested in do-nothing slumber. She persuades her Granny to depart their somnolent environs, with the destination a place called Never Sleeping City. Pajamas, slippers and pillows of course are persona non gratta in this land of an ongoing adrenaline rush, and en-route they work on the art of keeping one’s eyes open. That’s the basic premise of a picture book that lovingly evokes Maurice Sendak’s Caldecott Honor winner "In the Night Kitchen" with its bold and colorful cartoon-styled vignettes and word bubbles. Levis’s illustrator is the enormously gifted LeUyen Pham, whose croquille and India ink on bristol board panels are strikingly colored digitally. I am aware of that one image, which is unfortunately marring an otherwise great book with illustrations by Julianne's more's favorite collaborator.

Posted : Jan 11, 2019 03:59

Tarie Sabido

Thank you for bringing this up, Edi!! I went back to the image and I'm very sorry for not spotting it. There IS a disturbing similarity between the black person and the black anthropomorphic ape. :( I'm glad the committee will be much more thorough than me!

Posted : Jan 10, 2019 10:15

Edi Campbell

I haven’t had a chance to read this one, but a couple of people have contacted me about a particular image in the book. I’m wondering if you’ve seen it and how well representation occurs in the rest of the book. The image I’m referring to is of a crowd gathered outside Never Sleeping City. “UP”” is written at the top of the page along with a text bubble, “Tonight we are going to party ALLLL night.” Just in front of the building is a black person and a black anthropomorphic ape walking side by side, eating ice cream. Did you see this image? Their appearance is disturbingly similar. I’m wondering, after seeing this and knowing that the character and her grandmother are brown skin, if there may be other offensive images in the book. I’d prefer not to purchase it.

Posted : Jan 08, 2019 07:01

C. May

No mention of Sendak's 'In the Night Kitchen'? Spread for spread this is straight homage. Though the committee won't be able to talk about it, there is no way they won't see it. Love this book!

Posted : Jan 08, 2019 06:16

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