The Night Walk opens with a mother’s tantalizing invitation to her two children: “Wake up. . . . Let’s go, so we get there on time.” It’s the middle of the night, but the sleepy children get ready for an adventurous journey to an unknown destination. Perfectly paced page turns capture the family’s trek and the wonders that await in the world after nightfall. Therein lies the joy of this picture book: Both the journey and the destination are delightful.
One of the children narrates as the family walks with all senses on alert. They hear crickets chirping and a train “slicing through the darkness.” The narrator notices not just the train’s “shrieking” wheels but also the “still silence” that follows its departure. They smell honeysuckle on the air, feel the lingering warmth of the pavement and notice glowing lights inside buildings. The big hotel gleams “bright like a chandelier,” while the last house in their village has “one eye open,” an upstairs window aglow.
When they leave their village behind to enter a “whispering forest,” Dorléans’ mastery of language (with superb work from translator Polly Lawson) is especially apparent. Her sensory details are remarkable and vivid. “The earth was damp,” she writes, and “the bark smelled comforting.” A palette of dusky, spectral blues envelops the family on their journey, interrupted only by pops of pale yellow from bedside lamps, porch lights, flashlights, the train’s headlights and the moon. When they finally reach the summit of a mountainous slope, the expansive vista and the revelation of their ultimate objective is breathtaking.
Never hurried, this eloquent story is a beautifully measured tale not unlike one giant inhale (the journey) followed by a long, happy exhale (the closing spreads). Pick up a copy and make a night of it.