Monday, February 10, 2014

Halloween Sleepwalker, by Thomas Freese (illustrated by Fran Riddell)

Halloween Sleepwalker
Author: Thomas Freese
Illustrator: Fran Riddell
Publisher: Schiffer
Publication Date: October 25, 2013
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley

Oh dear. This is one of those books that I wish I had read to myself before sharing with my daughter. I ended up editing it as I went, for so many reasons.

First, the positive notes. I think it's always nice to start by saying something positive, if you can, so here goes. I like the cover. I think it shows great potential for a charming and engaging children's book. The colours are fantastic and I love the plaid pajamas. Also, I've had great experiences with Schiffer books in the past. They publish many of my favourite children's books, including Timothy Young's books. And, let's see. What else? The title is good.

I realize those are all just things about the cover, but honestly my positive feedback there. As for the rest of the book...

First of all, it's wordy. FAR too wordy. Sometimes I think people don't appreciate the importance of editing in a children's picture book. It isn't because children can't handle a lot of words, if they are the RIGHT WORDS, carefully chosen. But if the book is wordy simply because it hasn't been edited down to the perfect phrasing, that's a problem. It has to sound good read aloud, because almost all picture books ARE read aloud. Long, dense text that is neither funny nor pleasingly repetitive nor evocative is just not successful. Would this be a story a child would request so often that both adult and child would have it memorized after a few readings? In this case no, absolutely not.

Second, the story is confusing. It's Halloween but NOBODY IS TRICK-OR-TREATING. It doesn't even seem to be a thing that happens in the book's world. The child's parents and older sister are all too afraid to go outside on Halloween night because of irrational fears of ghosts, witches and jack-o-lanterns, but when our hero inevitably ventures out anyway (because of his sleepwalking) THERE IS NOBODY OUTSIDE. No trick-or-treaters? Nobody in costume? Not even someone walking their dog at least? I guess because he's dreaming anything is possible, including an abandoned town, but the issue of trick-or-treating is not even mentioned in the book, which is bizarre.

Third, what's up with the fear of witches and ghosts and magic? The church is mentioned several times in the book, then the little boy encounters witches in the forest who enchant him and give him magic apples that makes him see ghosts and ghouls. Is this supposed to be a cautionary tale about witchcraft? I was confused. It seemed like it was Halloween as described by Goodie Putnam of Salem. The "spooky" element was in imagining that the little boy really could meet witches who would enchant him, but the notion that witches were frightening, supernatural women who met in the woods was presented as a given. I was at a loss to understand the point of all of it, other than to reinforce archaic superstitions and stereotypes.

Fourth, the illustrations did not live up to the promising cover. They lacked refinement or charm. I was disappointed.

And finally, the idea that the boy was sleepwalking and that his adventures riding a flying broomstick were actually him climbing a tree and falling...well, was that actually the point? I interpreted it that way, but it wasn't exactly made clear. My daughter was left confused by the whole thing.

In the end Magda liked it more than I did, but I'll be honest. I didn't read her every word as it was written because I actually found it a little offensive in places. And even she agreed that almost every other book we'd read about Halloween, sleepwalking or nighttime fears was better than this one.

No comments: