Switch on the Night, by Ray Bradbury, pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon
(1993 edition, Knopf, ISBN 0-394-90486-4)
Switch on the Night, by Ray Bradbury, illustrated by Madeleine Gekiere
(first edition, 1955, Pantheon Books)
GirlChild grabbed this book randomly off the shelf (along with a Boynton book I’d never seen–one with an actual plot!–and a couple Margaret Wise Brown titles). I had no idea Bradbury had ever written a children’s book, so I didn’t know what to expect from it. GirlChild gets spooked pretty easily (the power of suggestion is strong with this one), so I was hesitant to keep reading once I realized that the main character was afraid of the dark. It was touch and go for a bit, but the book is totally worth it!
The story starts with a “once upon a time” type opening, and the entire book has the feel of poetic oral storytelling; rhythm, personification, alliteration and assonance, repetition and rephrasing, fragments and pauses, and repeated passages to serve as a kind of refrain. (In fact, it would be an excellent trade book for teachers to use for poetic device instruction.) We meet the little boy (who never gets a name) who doesn’t like the Night. Before we get to the events of the story, several pages are dedicated to what he does like–“lanterns and lamps and flashlights and candles and chandeliers” and whatnot–and how he is lonely watching the other children play out in the summer nights. When his father is away on a trip and his mother has already gone to bed, the little boy lights all the lights in the house before he hears something knocking out in the dark. He meets a little girl–Dark–who offers to introduce him to the Night because she knows he is lonely. She tells him that the Night can be switched on and off, and that turning off the lights is really just turning on the Night. (Doesn’t it seem a little less intimidating, then, when the child feels he or she has some control over it?) Dark leads the little boy around and shows him some of the wonders of the Night, including the animal noises and the moon and the many-colored stars. When she leaves, the little boy is confident about the Night, and he joins in with the other children playing outside.
Leo and Diane Dillon illustrated this edition of the book, and the dedication page refers to “E. M. Escher”…but M. C. Escher appears to be the inspiration for the illustrations. (I couldn’t figure out who E. M. Escher might be, but I can only guess a relative, an alternate name, or a typo!) In any given image (and each spread typically features a single illustration in a square frame set opposite the text), you might see three or more perspectives of the same scene, and it often includes multiple images of the character or characters, all set at impossible angles to one another. Other illustrations have the appearance of multi-segmented shadow boxes or stained glass panels, still others aerial cross-sections, and just a very few standard perspectives. One of the more interesting visual choices was the sudden switch from white pages with black text to black pages with white text on the page where the little boy meets Dark. Overall, the visuals are stunning and make this book worth a physical reading in addition to the definite poetry of hearing it read aloud.
GirlChild’s Reactions: Like I said, I was a little worried that GirlChild would come away from this book with a fear of the dark (and strange children who knock on your windows late at night…), but a little bit of talking up of how neat it would be to “turn on the Night” got her into the spirit of the thing. We read this book over a month ago (and I’ve kept it squirreled away so I could finish my review–and thank goodness my library doesn’t have late fees because I forgot to renew it!), but I heard her just last night asking her daddy if she could turn on the Night in her bedroom before she went to sleep. It is definitely one where the imagery lingers, and I would recommend it for ages four and up due to the many layers of story and style.
UPDATE: I just learned that author Ray Bradbury passed away on June 5, 2012 at age 91. Celebrate his life and contributions to fantasy and science fiction by sharing this book with your child!