CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 36. . . .May 22, 2015
Song for a Summer Night: A Lullaby.
Robert Heidbreder. Illustrated by Qin Leng.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Ananasi Press, 2015.
32 pp., hardcover & pdf, $17.95 (hc.), $14.95 (pdf).
ISBN 978-1-55498-493-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-494-7 (pdf).
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 3-8.
Review by Joanie Proske.
Author Robert Heidbreder has created a stunning children’s picture book, infused with a subtle déjà vu that invites the reader on a magical journey of remembrance. Song For A Summer Night draws upon a simple premise: young children gather outside their homes on a warm summer’s evening to witness the gradual turn of twilight into night.
The story is prefaced with a drawing of an adorable and well-loved purple stuffed rabbit, a perfect metaphor for the book’s comfortable pace and mood. The setting is introduced through a full two-page colour illustration of a small town, showing its close proximity to nearby fields, meadows and woods. The sun has disappeared, leaving a rosy hue in the evening sky. There is an open friendly atmosphere to the community with no fencing or gates, no cars, but just the slightest suggestion of technology with the inclusion of a few telephone poles and streetlights. The focus is upon the warm glow of the lights from the scattered homes with their different-coloured roofs and house styles. The book’s artwork includes enough details to invite young readers to explore beyond the text. Children may have fun guessing which child lives in which home, or wonder to where the cats and skunks disappear. There are plenty of opportunities for readers to practise their own skills of observation using the world contained on these pages.
As night falls, the children begin to peer outside the windows of their homes, eventually giving in to curiosity and gathering outside with friends. Each page is a record of their growing delights at the arrival of small nighttime creatures, such as cats, fireflies, raccoons, and owls. The sky changes as sunset fades, colours deepen, and the stars appear, until gradually the moon bathes everything with its surreal reflective glow.
The beautiful artwork by award-winning illustrator Qin Leng enhances the imagery within the text. Each full-page spread captures the changes of light that convey an atmosphere of imagined scents and feelings. The colour palette is grounded in the cool colours of the summer night with touches of warmer hues illustrating the sunset, electric lights and eventual arrival of the new day. As night descends, the shades deepen with stars appearing as splashes across the night sky. Though minimalistic in nature, Qin Leng’s lines capture the whimsical expressions on the children’s faces, the curious gaze of the cats, or the scurrying retreat of the raccoons. Ink and brush outlines are digitally painted but capture a watercolour style of art.
As a former primary teacher, Heidbreder aptly displays an ability to select a poetic style that will resonate with a young audience. He has chosen a short and simple rhymthic (a-b-c-b) pattern for the description of events. Like the lullaby the book portrays, the rhythm creates a rich emotional connection that lulls the reader into the arms of night.
While night air keeps singing
its soft lullaby,
the tired-out moon
seeks its bed in the sky.
Then animals leave,
on feet or on wings,
but the summer night song
lingers on as it sings.
Each new nighttime feature is featured as a growing list of sounds, repeated throughout after each verse. The absence of upper case lettering and the use of cursive handwriting for these sound-inspired words speak to the author’s intent of creating a quiet softness. He invites the reader to whisper these words and join in the shared experience:
In bounce some dogs, with happy leap-bounds.
Their drumming pound-pounds, round out the park sounds:
Shh-shh, glint-glint, pring-pring,
tral-la-la, snap-snap, tip-tap,
hoo-hoo, click-click, purr-purr, scratch-scratch, pound-pound.
The children’s relaxed poses and upturned faces reflect their joy and delight in the last moments of the summer night. As they are called to bed, they can’t resist one last look at the wonder of the moon and the magical atmosphere it has created.
They slip into beds,
eyes shut sleep-tight
They know singing dreams
will ring round them all night.
Soon morning turns bright,
with sun hiding moon,
And children greet day,
humming night’s tune.
At first glance, readers might not recognize Robert Heidbreder’s work as his two other popular books, I Wished for A Unicorn and Drumheller Dinosaur Dance, were illustrated by two other artists, both with very different styles.
Our senses and memories are so closely intertwined that sometimes a visual or verbal cue has the ability to whisk one across time to relive a vivid emotional moment. Song for a Summer Night is a glorious feast for the senses of sight, sound, and feeling, and it is likely that adult readers will immediately be transported back to the happy summer evenings of their own childhoods. It is a book that demands a cozy snuggle with a preschooler as a bedtime story and the sharing of one’s own memories. However, the book would also just as successfully serve as the perfect vehicle for a creative teacher who wishes to explore an introduction to poetry, imagery, and artistic appreciation with primary students. Song for a Summer Night is a book to be savoured over many readings as it celebrates the great joy to be found in the sharing of common experiences.
Joanie Proske is a teacher librarian in the Langley School District, Langley, BC.
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