Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley’s first picture book, illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Lauren Castillo, evokes the splashy fun of the beach and the quietude of a moonlit night, with twenty yawns sprinkled in for children to discover and count.
A Perfect Bedtime Book
Twenty Yawns combines the best of two worlds common to picture books for young children: the beach book and the bedtime book. Lucy and her parents enjoy a day at the beach, staying longer than they ever have before. Understandably, they are all tired by the end of the day, but when Lucy tries to go to sleep, she finds she is suddenly wide awake. As her parents doze on, she collects her stuffed animals and tucks them in. One by one, yawn by yawn, they—and finally Lucy—each fall asleep.
Smiley’s text is simple and elegant, and captures the immediacy of Lucy’s experiences at the beach and at home. Castillo’s illustrations are both soft and bold, a perfect pairing with the text. I found her depiction of light especially lovely and my favorite image was the one in which Lucy sits upright in bed as the “moon shone through the window, a silver veil that fell across the floor.” The twenty yawns that give the book its name are highlighted in different colors, making them easy for children to notice and count as they read.
While I am always on the lookout for diverse picture books, I am especially interested in ones that are not “about” diversity, that is, books which depict a variety of people without making the experience of difference an obvious central theme or plot point. Smiley and Castillo do this well inTwenty Yawns. The most obvious example is that Lucy is biracial. However, even in subtle details, they quietly upend common expectations, such as when Lucy’s male kangaroo toy is shown with a pocket and a baby.
The one critique I had involved a minor plot hole: Lucy’s mother falls asleep in Lucy’s room, but several pages later, she disappears. Presumably, she wakes up and leaves to go to her own bed, but it is hard to imagine her doing so without noticing that Lucy was still wide awake. That one detail notwithstanding, I strongly recommend Twenty Yawns. Though I could see children enjoying reading it anytime, it is particularly well suited for bedtime, and I dare any reader to get through all twenty yawns without joining in!
A sweet story of a biracial family at the beach and at home.