Sunday, November 09, 2008

review: Night's Nice

Night's Nice by Barbara and Ed Emberley. Doubleday, 1962; Little, Brown, 2008 (978-0-316-06623-5) $12.99

"Ooh!" I said to myself, as I found the original copyright date for this book--1962--"THAT explains it." Although I have no memory of ever having seen Night's Nice before, its distinctive style immediately evoked a sense of nostalgia in me. Cartoony little pictures, heavily washed with bright watercolors... men smoking pipes, freckled-faced boys, Halloween costumes of red-nosed bums... this is all stuff of picture books of my childhood. These days, that white-bread look could be considered less nostalgic than outright dated.

Nonetheless, it remains an attractive book. A rhyming text describes some of the exciting and cozy pleasures of nighttime: "Night's nice for spooky Halloween make-believe, Night's nice for carols and snow Christmas Eve." As a good bedtime book should, it ends on an especially gentle note: "For kings and for kittens, For birds in a tree. Night's nice's for sleeping, For you and for me. So hop into bed, Turn over thrice/And whisper this softly: Night's nice, night's nice, night's nice." The wording is occasionally awkward and the scansion sometimes falters, but the overall feeling evoked is so comfortable, it's still pleasant to read aloud.

The pictures match the different moods of nighttime shown in the text, with a fiery, boldly orange Halloween night, a bright neon city night, a sleepy green and brown forest, and a dark, snowy Christmas Eve sparkling with dashes of brilliant lights.

My feelings about this book are a little mixed. It's certainly not what you're looking for if you want diversity or originality or sophistication. But in an odd way, the old-fashioned look comes across as intriguingly different, just because we don't see books that look like this much anymore. And it has a sincere sweetness that isn't at all coy or cloying. I think it will still find an appreciative audience. (2-6)

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