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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Scaredy Squirrel at Night
Scaredy Squirrel at Night
written and illustrated by Melanie Watt
Kids Can Press,(March 2009)
Scaredy Squirrel never sleeps. He'd rather stay awake than risk having a bad dream in the middle of the night.
A few creatures Scaredy Squirrel is afraid could appear in a bad dream: dragons, fairies, ghosts, unicorns, vampire bats, polka-dot monsters.
So he's very determined to stay awake by keeping busy all through the night.
--Scaredy Squirrel at Night, by Melanie Watt, p. 2-5.
If you have a worrywart at home, or are one yourself, you'll know how easily worries and fears can pile on each other, creating new ones. You'll also know how some worrywarts create lists or try to pre-plan events to bring them some sense of calm or feeling of security. Scaredy Squirrel does both those things in this delightful book.
Bedtime fears are very common in young children. Watt (Chester, Scaredy Squirrel) approaches this in a humorous way, while at the same time clearly understanding what it's like to worry and fear. Scaredy Squirrel is afraid to go to sleep, and stays awake instead of risking having a bad dream. But many sleepless nights make him tired. When a horoscope informs Scaredy Squirrel that his dreams will come true that night, he hurriedly creates a plan to combat bad dreams. But his plan goes awry, and he falls asleep amidst it all--waking up feeling refreshed.
Watt cleverly makes Scaredy Squirrel's bad-dream fears seem laughable, by making them silly (being afraid of fairies and unicorns appearing in bad dreams) and putting silly warnings in the book (warning: everyone check under their bed before reading this book). Watt also makes Scaredy Squirrel very over-prepared--so much so that the reader just knows something will happen. Scaredy Squirrel finding the horoscope at the last minute felt slightly forced, but was still enjoyable.
When intruders appear--raccoons, a porcupine, owl, moose, frog, and a few insects--they are not at all scary. Readers will likely enjoy Scaredy Squirrel getting into a mess because of his elaborate plan--and then doing exactly what he was trying not to do, fall asleep. Readers will be reassured that nothing bad happens to Scaredy Squirrel when he sleeps, and in fact good things happen (a racoon covers him with a blanket, and he rests so he wakes up feeling better). At times Watt's text feels like it is telling or listing rather than showing or telling a story, yet the humor, for the most part, helps outweigh that.
Children will love the humor in this book, the way Scaredy Squirrel goes so over the top (creating a silly, detailed action plan to combat bad dreams--put out molasses to slow a unicorn, have a fire extinguisher for dragons). Adults will likely find themselves enjoying the humor as well as children, such as Scaredy Squirrel noting the effects of sleeplessness (moodiness, energy loss, forgetfulness, etc.).
Watt humorously lists the results of lack of sleep (energy loss, confusion, etc), pairing each with a headshot illustration of Scaredy Squirrel, subtlety reminding readers that sleep is important. Watt cleverly contrasts the benefits of good sleep (energy gain, sharper memory, etc) in the same format as the side effects of sleepiness, which makes the positive effects of sleep all the stronger. Some text near the end feels almost instructive and not as appealing, as readers learn that Scaredy Squirrel realizes bad dreams were just his imagination--but the humor quickly comes back as he decides to put his trust in a fortune cookie, and keeps one thing from his anti-bad-dream arsenal.
Watt maintains Scaredy Squirrel's worrywart personality right to the end of the book, where, even though he now can sleep, he keeps his fire extinguisher just in case he needs it. This helps make Scaredy Squirrel endearing, and will also reassure readers who are worrywarts themselves that there's nothing wrong with a little bit of worrywartness. The ending is funny, and continues the cycle of the story, as Scaredy Squirrel decides to replace his horoscope--the thing that made him start the elaborate bad-dream plan in the first place--with something more "reliable"--a fortune cookie.
Watt's busy illustrations are filled with things to look at and read, which will keep kids poring over the pages--such as all the things Scaredy Squirrel needs to face bad dreams (a spotlight, cup cakes, fire extinguisher, teddy bears, etc), and the bad-dream action plan, mapped out.
Watt's illustrations are matt, almost pastel colors, with lots of blues and green, and have a child-like quality to them, with thick black lines around most characters and objects, flat colors without shading, and simple yet expressive lines for expressions. There is little or no background detail or much sense of depth--again, like a child would draw.
Watt uses variation in the size and layout of the illustrations, which makes the book visually pleasing. Many pages are divided up into multiple smaller illustrations, similar to comic book panels, depicting action over time or a series of expressions or objects, while some illustrations take up a full page or an entire spread. Characters are drawn with simple curves. Exaggerated body language is a strong part of the illustrations, and helps make the story more enjoyable as Scardey Squirrel gets scared, exhausted, sleepy, and rested.
Scaredy Squirrel is almost always the clear focus of every illustration, usually appearing large or in the center of the illustration, or framed in a border. However, in the illustration where he panics, he gets slightly lost in all the activity and some of the other similar brown colors, and I found myself wishing there was something that made him visually stand out.
Watt helps the reader feel a part of the story, or as if we are right next to Scaredy Squirrel, through the use of some props--illustrations that show us a close-up of Scaredy Squirrel's important papers, such as his handwritten list on lined paper, and the horoscope page, as if we were looking at it the way Scaredy Squirrel can. This is effective, and helps draw the reader more fully into the story.
Watt is very creative, engaging the reader from the get-go, with an in-character caution on the cover (Caution! Glow-in-the-dark smile may keep you wide awake), continuing on to an animated synopsis of the book and lead in to the story on the inside cover, and then another warning before the story begins. Even Watt's bio is creative and clever. I really enjoy her humor.
Scaredy Squirrel at Night is a funny, light-hearted book about bad dreams, and a worrywart who discovers that he can sleep without bad dreams after all. Recommended.
-Added February 18, 2009
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