February 25, 2018


We all have crazy dreams now and then while we're sleeping, but Mariana Ruiz Johnson's wordless picture book While You Are Sleeping sets out to explore what OTHERS are doing while WE are sleeping. And with what we see of Johnson's visuals, it almost makes you want to stay awake!

Johnson's book shows readers a young child being read a bedtime story and falling asleep. Each spread that follows zooms out further and further to show us what's happening in the little hillside village. We see the child's parents canoodling, the curtains drawn, and then darkness in succession, but the rest of the village also progresses, with neighbors going through various moments of dining together, stages of a woman painting, and even a person being tattooed. But at one point things become more mystical, and a set of six creatures take off in a boat for an island where they ritualistically dance until the sun comes up and the child is awakened by the parents. 

It's important to note that the book that the mother reads to the child at the very beginning of the story. It features the same characters on the front cover as the ones who perform the ritualistic dance at the end of our story. So does that mean that most of this story takes place in the child's dreams? Or is it a combination of reality and the child's imagination? There's obviously no way to know –– when the child wakes up, we're once again zoomed in and, therefore, can't confirm any of the previous night's activities –– but it's a magical journey nonetheless. The colors are vibrant in the digitally-assembled illustrations, and there's a strong sense of energy in every corner of the book, leaving us to wonder what happens when we turn off our own lights at night.

While You Are Sleeping published from Chronicle Books last month.

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