Friday, February 19, 2010

Our Eyes Glow in the Dark... with Love!

While You are Sleeping
by Alexis Deacon
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006

The imagery in While You are Sleeping gives me what I can only describe as warm chills. The inside cover flap is papered over with your standard (normally innocuous) collection of toys and stuffed animals, except that some of them appear to be floating creepily, and they are all staring directly at you. The vague sense of friendly dread this imagery instills is a great emotional summary of the rest of the book, which has a touching, even heartwarming story even as it is subliminally unnerving.

The story itself is touching, and multilayered. On surface it is a story of reassurance, a letter written in the second person to a child from her toys. They stay awake, protecting you from nighttime terrors as you sleep. Of course, the idea of all my toys coming to life when I was a kid, even to protect me from things I was afraid of, would itself have inspired fear. On top of this, there is a story of indoctrination; there is a new toy (the cuddliest little lion), who must pass muster to remain part of the group. He does, of course, but what would they have done if he failed? I shudder to think.

This book sits in a position of delightful ambiguity. Though I have called attention to the strangeness of it, I should also make clear that the characters are endearing, in a soft and understated way. The illustrations are very warm, with a classic fuzzyness that makes you want to give them all a hug. Overall, this book is absolutely perfect for reading under a blanket, with a flashlight, just before bed. Just try not to look to closely at the eyes, glowing golden in the night...

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