SLEEP, BABY, SLEEP! by Amy Hest
I like bedtime. There are the rituals, of course. Including a nice little bedtime snack, preferably ice cream. Choosing the right pajamas, that’s important, too, and rearranging the comforter and all those crazy pillows. And finally – the best ritual of all – picking up that book, snuggling low, and reading by the light of the bedside lamp, quite literally reading myself to sleep.
Over the years of my writing life, I have probably put many, many babies, and toddlers, and small children, and possibly even their parents to sleep. Generally, I write about familiar things rather than things I don’t know much about. I write about places I know and things I can do, and tend to stay away from writing about all those many things I cannot do. I’m not much good at basketball, for example, or fancy cooking, so I don’t often – or ever — write about basketball. Or fancy cooking. But I can ride a bike, and do so quite often. Which is why it isn’t that much of a stretch to put someone on a bike in one of my stories. I like pancakes for breakfast, and eat them as often as possible. Which is why you are likely to find someone in one, or two, or even three of my stories eating pancakes for breakfast.
Which brings me back to the business of putting babies to sleep. Which is definitely in the realm of familiar. I happen to know a lot about putting babies to sleep. Am I good at it? Maybe. Perhaps. Yes. So, while I have written a lot of books about a lot of things, I have also written a few in which someone is, quite miraculously, sound asleep as you turn the last page. KISS GOOD NIGHT is a book like that.
When my own children were babies, one of my favorite parts of a long, long day was bedtime. Aside from all the obvious reasons a parent might look forward to that good night kiss, there were books. Lots of them. Every night. A book, a baby on my lap, this was good. No, this was way better than good. It was a little slice of heaven. Back in the baby days of my children, our tiny New York City apartment was high in the sky – 33rd floor – and oh, those views! You could see all the way up to the George Washington Bridge and beyond. The moon, the stars, the Hudson River, the parks and taxis and buses and even Lincoln Center … all from our big picture windows. We said our good nights to all of that – out there – and then it was time. Time to settle on the couch, or sometimes in the fat club chair turned backwards so we could continue to watch the night, especially if the night was stormy. Yes, there were views – spectacular – but somehow they all had a way of slipping into the background, like soft music, as we started to read. A book, a cozy lamp, a baby on my lap … a little slice of heaven.
Those memories stick. They make me smile. I like sharing them, and what better way than to write about them. Cozy is probably my favorite word in the English language. I like cozy. I believe in cozy. And try to create cozy, in my life and in my books. Especially when it comes to bedtime. Cozy in; everything else, out. My bedtime rituals with my own babies became KISS GOOD NIGHT. Writing it brought back more memories. Happily, those memories became DON’T YOU FEEL WELL, SAM? Then, YOU CAN DO IT, SAM.
And coming this fall, another goodnight story, ARE YOU SURE, MOTHER BEAR? In this one, Little Miss Bear has the usual concerns about bedtime. But in addition, another one looms large. She is going to sleep not just for tonight, but for the entire winter, because that’s what bears do. Oh, the things she will miss! The moon, the stars, the hills for rolling, and most especially her mother! Reassurance is what she needs, and reassurance is what she gets from Mother Bear. And finally, there is sleep. Because that’s what bears do.
And coming next spring, in BUSTER AND THE BABY, a quite rambunctious baby and utterly adorable pup will vie for your attention as they go through their amusing paces … all the way to bedtime.
Speaking of pups, I’m a big fan. (My own dog’s name is Billy). In recent years I have written all kinds of books about dogs. Including CHARLEY’S FIRST NIGHT, a story about a new puppy who simply can’t fall asleep. His young friend, Henry, is right there, though, taking full charge, making sure little Charley is comfortable and cozy and safe. Henry gets it, young as he is: everything must be settled first – the stars, the moon, the pillow, the cozy – and then his new puppy will drift off to sleep. I was so very attached to Charley, and Henry! So, keeping memories of my own grampa close, I wrote some more. Which became WHEN CHARLEY MET GRAMPA. In this one a brand-new friendship is sealed at bedtime, as Charley and Grampa fall asleep together, and “Grampa snores wild.”
Sleep, baby, sleep …
Amy Hest is the author of many beloved picture books, including Charley’s First Night and When Charley Met Grampa, both illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. She is also the author of the middle-grade novels Letters to Leo and Remembering Mrs. Rossi. Amy Hest lives in New York City.