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Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Insomniacs, written by Karina Wolf and illustrated by The Brothers Hilts. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2012. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"Mother dragged herself to
work and then nodded at her
Father took pictures at his
studio and then took forty
Mika listened to her lessons
but sleepwalked through the
science lab.
The headmistress sent her home..."

In her first book, Karina Wolf introduces a memorable and offbeat family who have moved to a new home that is 12 time zones away from everything familiar to them. It is quite the adjustment. Of course, they have trouble falling asleep at the new time once they are settled. They are awake through the night and just as the sun is set to rise in the east, they begin to fade. The yawns grow wider, the stretches elongate and the eyes begin to droop. It is time to rest for Mother, Father and Mika. Working at their regular jobs becomes impossible. At her school, the headmistress wonders if Mika has sleeping sickness. Each night, they try all the usual remedies for insomnia. Nothing makes a difference.

Not knowing how to make things better, they look to their neighbors. Not their daytime neighbors, to be clear. They will take their questions at night to their natural neighbor, the bear who seems able to sleep for long periods without difficulty. Instead of finding bears:

"...they saw a horde of mice
hanging upside down.
The cloud of animals roused and rushed
into the night.
They weren't mice at all.
They dipped and dived and surfed the air.
They squealed with delight."

These discoveries about the night life in their new environs are 'womder'ful! The nighttime world is abuzz with delight and grand adventure. Instead of fighting the difficulty to change, they embrace it and learn to live a new kind of life that is fulfilling, and laden with new experiences:

"Mika wrangled her nighttime pets - an aardvark, an angel shark, a bandicoot and a small-eared zorro frisked in Mika's room. A fennec fox lived under her bed, and she fed him night beetles."

If that doesn't send you on a hunt for further information, color me surprised!

The Brothers Hilts offer up quirky characters, an amazing backdrop and enough moonlight to entice the most tentative among us outside to experience it all personally. Their use of blue and black brings the true dark beauty of the night alive for anyone sharing this ode to family and the calm elegance to be found outside our comfort zone. The design is ever-changing, drawing our attention to the incredible scenes created. This is a bedtime book that will be requested repeatedly for so many brilliant reasons, not the least of which is this:

"The Insomniacs didn't need the sun:
they had stars and fireflies and northern lights."

I can get behind that procession.

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