CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 27. . . .March 16, 2018
Riverview, NB: Chocolate River Publishing, 2017.
32 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.
Review by Amber Allen.
“People setting out on adventures often feel nervous, but they just make up their minds to be courageous about it. Daddy and I are very proud of you for being courageous,” said Henrietta’s mother as she hugged her goodbye before driving away.
Henrietta is embarking on a new and intimidating adventure – her first overnight stay at her grandparent’s cottage. She likes so much about visiting Gramma Lucie and Grandpa Henry. The beauty of the nature that surrounds their home, the unique bird species that share their land, and the love of her family are all amazing. Still, there are many unknowns about this visit, too. The cottage doesn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity, which is very different from her own house. With courage and mixed emotions, Henrietta says goodbye to her mother and settles into the visit. The canoe ride on the lake is a highlight as Gramma Lucie and Henrietta see and hear all the different water fowl and enjoy the fresh air, but soon it is nighttime, and she is forced to face the dark and all the unknown sounds that are amplified at night. When Henrietta has had her fill of fear and is ready to beg to be taken back home, Gramma Lucie surprises and delights her by making her a wonderful nightlight using fireflies in a jar. Before long, Henrietta is waking up in the morning and gets to enjoy a very special sighting that was only possible at dawn.
This very sweet book has a relatable premise for children. Stepping outside of his or her routine, out of the comfort of daily activities, can cause a child to worry and imagine worst-case scenarios. The simple, yet relevant, content of this story is a way for children to work through expectations before a similar visit. As Henrietta compares how this visit will be the same as other visits, how it will be different, and what she loves about her grandparent’s cottage, she is forced to work through what it is that worries her – this skill can help children to prepare for novelty in their own lives. The realization that she is safe and protected in this different location drives the moral home.
The illustrations are hand-drawn using coloured pencils on Strathmore medium surface paper. They are full-page images full of rich detail, and the images of the birds are especially pretty. Aesthetically speaking, this style is polarizing – I do not believe these drawings will attract the average child, but it is nice to expose young readers to different art styles. Since pencil crayon is a common tool for this age group, it may inspire mimicry. The weakest aspect of the drawings are the human figures as they are inconsistent page to page, but the pictures as a whole tell the story alongside the text in a satisfying way.
Outside of the story, Henrietta’s Nightlight has a lot to offer in the form of vocabulary and ornithology. Whitney does not shy from using big words (like “courageous,” “elegant,” and “tentatively”) and describes a wide variety of cottage birds (like warblers, sandpipers, and cedar waxwings) for the reader. It would be an interesting follow-up to check out some books or websites about the birds discussed in the book after reading the story. It may spark an interest for a child before visiting a lake or wooded area during summer vacation. Perfect opportunity to create a “flora and fauna from the book” scavenger hunt game!
Amber Allen is a librarian in Toronto, ON., with a passion for children’s literature and writing.
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University of Manitoba
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