First of all: Would the person who misplaced every book I own and simply cannot find please step forward? Thank you. I promise I will be merciful, I would just like my books to be returned where I can find them.
See, it goes like this: the Changeling and I get really into a book and read it all the time. It’s usually left out on the sofa or side table because we’re probably just going to read it in another five minutes, anyway. Then… it disappears. Then the Changeling really wants to find the Arctic hare in Arctic Dreams by Carol Gerber, illustrated by Marty Husted, and the book is nowhere to be found. Her lip jumps. I quickly explain that the book will come back and can she be a brave girl and choose another book until it comes back? She stiffens her upper lip and nods and says that there’s an Arctic hare in her animal book. What a brave girl, thank you! I breathe a private sigh of relief. And then, a week later, Arctic Dreams is back, and I have no idea how or where it was.
So, I know someone out there’s playing tricks in here, and it’s driving me up the wall. Oooh, that’s what you want, isn’t it? Well, the bad news is that you let me find Arctic Dreams again, and so long as I’m reading this book, it’s impossible to feel anything other than perfect serenity. This is, I’m positive, the Buddha’s favourite book. If we could just give every world leader a copy of this book and persuade them to read it every morning, we’d have world peace by next Tuesday at noon. This is the book Gandhi read before he decided on his personal Credo of nonviolence. This is, in a word, serenity encapsulated between the covers of one of the best bedtime books I really hope lots of parents know about, because, seriously, it will relax your kids, I promise. Or, if it doesn’t? You won’t care, because your blood pressure will have relaxed, at least.
Now, my previous standard for “super-relaxing bedtime book” was Goodnight Moon, that basic staple of the children’s bookshelf. I wasn’t even looking for other “bedtime books” because, c’mon, I have Goodnight Moon. This makes about as much sense as not trying lemon-strawberry sorbet because you already have a really good vanilla ice cream. They’re both delicious, both frozen desserts, but sometimes you’re in the mood for rich and creamy, sometimes for lighter and tangier. This book is, at one and the same time, more complex and simpler than Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Moon is vanilla ice cream: rich and deeply loved and lovable, you always love it, you had it when you were a child and you know your grandchildren will have it, too. It’s reliable, a little old-fashioned. And then you stumble across lemon-strawberry sorbet on a day you need a bit more of a change, and it’s also lovely on a hot day, also wonderful for chilling you out, but there’s a bit more variety going on, and it really hits the spot.
Or at least that’s how I felt when I found Arctic Dreams. It’s not that recent (published in 1999), but it was new to me, and it may likewise be new to you. The text of the book is very simple, lilting and rhythmic, but the vocabulary is a bit more complex than in Goodnight Moon, partly because it draws on a particular cultural background, the Inuit culture (well, so Canadians would say– the book says Eskimos, but I was brought up Not To Do That in the Canadian school system). And so you have a mixture of the simple, repetitive “Snuggle deep, my little one. / Snuggle deep. […] Dream in peace, my little one. / Dream in peace,” and textured, occasionally surprising passages such as, “Let sleep surround you as silently as a snowdrift… and cover you as softly as the fur of nanook, the large white bear.” The gentle, soothing rhythm is still there, but I find my brain suddenly feels that soft, warm blanket of fur in a quiet snowfall. (Fate? Please note: I do not actually wish to be flumped on by a hungry polar bear in an Arctic snowstorm. That sounds like a terrible, if memorable, way to die. Memorable for everyone else, that is. I’d be dead.)
Marty Husted’s pencil and watercolour illustrations, however, take this book from lovely and relaxing, to utter serenity. We begin with the mother murmuring to the child in his bed, and then enter the child’s mental dreamscape, where his mother’s words and his dreaming imagination take us to world’s we couldn’t really inhabit awake. See my above memo re: death by polar bear in a snowstorm. However, who doesn’t want to, in some absurd, dreamy level of their mind, snuggle with a polar bear in a gentle snowfall? How lovely!… in the dreaming imagination.
That dreaming imagination is what we see in these warm yet dreamy images (the precision of the pencils is offset by the softness of the watercolour), and it pulls your mind halfway into sleep, just like cuddling a kitty taking her nap: that sleepy serenity is contagious. We none of us are really going to snuggle up with a group of walruses (or at least I hope we aren’t), but wouldn’t you sort of like to be on a wild rock, surrounded by the sea, roaring with the walrus? No, you wouldn’t, says your logical mind: that would be smelly, uncomfortable, and deadly. Yes! screams your idiot imagination. What a breathtaking experience. “Exactly,” says your logic, dryly. “Breathtaking, indeed.” [Huh, apparently we don’t write “drily” any longer. It’s “dryly” now.– Ed.] I’m not even going to go into my favourite page: diving down deep in the blue ocean on the back of a bluer whale, surrounded by orangey-gold squid and seals, and schools of silvery fish. How gloriously impossible!
This book is dreamy in every sense of the word: it conveys dreams, draws you into dreams, and is a dream to read with a droopy, dreamy child. Also, pipes up the Changeling, “it has so many animals!” Yeah, that’s the only issue: you may be headed into dreamland– but then your toddler may pop up her eyes again to say, “That’s a tern! And a puffin! A puffin!” Go to sleep, my little one. Go to sleep.