Saturday, August 25, 2012

No Sleep Till [...?]

I have never been what I would call a "good" sleeper. I'm not bad, I can usually fall asleep eventually, I don't sleep great with other people in the bed, or in an unusual place, etc. A lifetime of living city-adjacent has made my brain averse to the deep-quiet; unless there's a hum of traffic or an electric fan, I can have trouble dropping off. What is happening out there!? What kind of red-eyed murderers are stirring among the cicadas and the night crawlers!?!

My parents, however, have considerably weirder sleeping habits. For as long as I can remember and as long as I have been alive my parents have been night workers. My stepmother is a nurse and my Dad is a respiratory therapist, and both of them prefer the less high maintenance nighttime shift over the hectic, stressful day time. Even here, at the book store, a definite change in tone occurs when the sun sets. Things take on a different weight as darkness sets.

But decades of 12 hour night shifts and sleeping during the day has permanently ruined my parents' sleeping cycles. Its not unusual that I will get a text from my stepmother at 3 in the morning about the 20th episode of Parks and Recreation she just watched. My Dad can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, but it's staying asleep, or getting into real REM sleep, that he has trouble achieving. Their bedroom is a dark cave of silence; the windows are boarded up with cardboard to keep out light, and soundproofed as best they can be to protect against erstwhile barking of woefully abandoned apartment dogs and the psychosis inducing, ever changing pitch of the leaf blower, the lawnmower, the various implements of a mind lost to gardening.

It was the artwork that made me pause in front of this book while I was walking through Children's the other day. The detailed, dark art in a children's setting reminded me of several things, including but not limited to Coraline, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and the cover art of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books, drawn by Brett Helquist.

Once intrigued, I flipped through the book itself and found out, lo and behold, that it's about a family that becomes nocturnal after moving their home to another part of the world. The family discovers first that they are unable to adjust to a new time zone, and then, subsequently, that they don't want to. They prefer the night time, and all the secret features it holds.

When I was in LA last summer, I saw the Tim Burton show that was happening at the LACMA, and he's a very interesting guy in many ways, but the characters in this book reminded me of his art in many ways. The appearance of small, dark, unusually shaped characters with key peculiarities that somehow decide to stop (or never start) fighting their nature and go against the grain.

I prefer children's books that have a bit of an edge to them, and I always have, even when I was a kid. Picture books like "The Stinky Cheese Man" (and anything by Jon Sciekza) and "The Girl who Cried Rose Petals" (now long out of print but about, you guessed it, a girl who cries rose petals) always held so much more allure than the other picture books. There's something about the juxtaposition of something bizarre and quirky in a world that generally veers towards the safe, the reassuring, the cloyingly happily ended. I'm not saying that's not what kid's books shouldn't be, or what childhood shouldn't include - I'm just saying that, when I was a youngster, I was more interested in the version of Cinderella where the wicked stepsisters get their toes cut off. Although, come to think of it, I was recommended for therapy by every single one of my elementary and middle school teachers until like 7th grade.

But, you guys, I'm pretty sure the crazy begat the picture books, not the other way around. Actually, compared to some of the other literature available, The Insomniacs is pretty tame. Really, the other thing odd about the protagonist family is that they prefer to stay up all night. They're not even doing anything truly weird, like sewing a fourth family member together out of parts or trying to resurrect grandma - the little girl even attends school, remotely via webcam. The book is very sweet and interesting and has great art, and, if you read it and like it, the Brothers Hilts are coming to Booksmith for a book signing event this very September! So stop in, check out the book, and come to the event because those are all the best  things to do.

But before you do that, check out this webpage of terrifying French children's books, and then you get back to me before you start calling me "Spooky Mulder", okay!? JEEPERS

No comments: