Some picture books aren’t meant to be read with a child on a sunny picnic blanket. In fact, some picture books aren’t meant to be read by children at all. Daydreams for Night (Simply Read Books, 2014) is one such book.
Better known as a singer-songwriter, Daydreams for Night is John Southworth’s first foray into picture books. Interestingly, illustrator David Ouimet is also a musician, and the influence of this combined musical background is evident. In fact, the collection of thirteen obscure vignettes is somewhat like an album.
Each of the very short stories stands alone but contributes to the connected whole. From the unlikely discovery of the world’s first watermelon, to the disturbing tale of a Girl Guide’s encounter at a funeral home, none of the stories follow a typical narrative structure. The standout piece is perhaps The Whale Who Lived on a Faraway Hill, a haunting, lyrical story with an accompanying illustration as beautiful as it is bizarre. The final story ties together many of the threads running through the book, including peculiar groups of people and the recurring elephant motif.
Ouimet breaks many unwritten rules in his illustrations. While in most picture books characters are rarely depicted making direct eye contact with readers, the cover of Daydreams for Night features a child on a steampunk swing, demanding a response with her gaze. This demand is repeated in several other disconcerting illustrations. There are also illustrations where characters appear either to look back or travel from right to left. This is highly unusual in picture books, where characters generally move from left to right, following the narrative.
The book itself is beautifully designed. The only colour added to the graphite illustrations is a rich bronze, which is used over blackest gloss for the cover title and featured throughout the text. This sumptuous production somehow stops the book from being too macabre, suggesting it is something to be treasured. Lifting the dust jacket reveals even more detail.
Daydreams for Night will be enjoyed by fans of Shaun Tan, and can be favourably compared to Chris van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It is not a picture book for younger readers, but an eccentric collection of images and imaginings for those who enjoy something a little darker.
Catherine Oehlman is a teacher, writer and literacy consultant. She is currently studying for her Masters in Children’s Literature and blogs at http://squigglebooks.com