Twenty Yawns, the debut picture book from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley, is the story of one child’s day. Smiley is paired with Caldecott Honor artist Lauren Castillo here, and the results are spectacular.
Readers meet Lucy and her family—a loving, mixed-race trio—in the early morning at the beach. The long, fun day wears out the entire family, and everyone else is asleep when Lucy gets up from the bed to retrieve her favorite toy, Molasses the bear. As she grabs her bear, many of her other stuffed animals fall to the floor. Eventually, they all end up in her bed. “They seemed lonely,” after all.
A child wandering through the house at night, when everyone else has fallen asleep, is mesmerizing subject matter for young readers; think of Jonathan Bean’s At Night (2007) or Komako Sakai’s Hannah’s Night (published in the U.S. in 2014). This endearing story is a delightful addition to the theme.
The book’s title reflects the 20 yawns placed throughout, and children will have fun counting them. The “yawns” are laid out in playful, colorful typography that never intrudes upon the story. Castillo uses thick outlines for her characters, and she makes use of full-bleed spreads, as well as spot illustrations on white pages, to expertly pace the story. Her artwork is textured, and intriguing patterns dominate the family’s home, particularly in Lucy’s bedroom.
Lucy’s world is one of warmth and security (even when everyone’s dozing), which makes this a winning bedtime read.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.