Little Owl’s Bedtime – by Debi Gliori, illustrated by Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020
First, you have to suspend disbelief because the little owl in this story is not nocturnal. His mother expects him to go to sleep in the dark of night, and he doesn’t want to; whether his reluctance is based on his species or his personality does not matter. Little Owl wants more bedtime stories,his night light, and the reassurance that his missing stuffed hedgehog isn’t gone for good.
Like his equally inventive human counterparts, Owl doesn’t want the day to end in darkness and he will do almost anything to avoid the fact that it does. Debi Gliori and Alison Brown capture a child’s sense of fear and anticipation in facing sleep and looking forward to when light returns.
Owl, his mother, and younger sibling have broad faces and simple features. Soothing green and blue shades alternate with brighter colors, making the setting more imaginary than naturalistic. Owl’s hedgehog is light purple, his mom’s bath is full of cotton candy-pink bubbles, and the doors on an owl-themed cuckoo clack are deep red.
There are inventive elements in some of the pictures, including one of Little Owl’s mother reading to him from a book about sleepy mice. Mother and child are in profile, interacting both with one another and with the bedtime story, which is opened to a two-page spread of yawning and sleeping grey mice against a field of gold wheat. This mom is extremely patient, yet her exasperation shows when even her most dedicated efforts to bring bedtime to its conclusion fail.
Little Owl is sweet, but obstinate. Mom is kind, consistent, but flexible up to a point. Rather than bathing a child in the aura of almost otherworldly security provided by a book like Goodnight Moon, Little Owl’s Bedtime places its characters in a familiar setting, but punctuates this domestic quiet with realistic objections and predictable responses. Going to sleep will make the next day come sooner, the tiny night light is “so small even a very shy frog wouldn’t mind you using it,” are statements that defy normal logic but make perfect sense to a young child eager to believe a parent’s explanations. Of course, a missing stuffed animal has probably made a brief trip to the bakery before returning to sleep alongside Little Owl. Every children’s book about bedtime inevitably alludes to the tradition of reading as a gateway to sleep. Little Owl’s Bedtime has its own place in the canon, balancing the inevitable fears, the protective role of parents, and the possibility of a little brief rebellion before letting the day end.