Monday, 11 November 2019

Writing a Bedtime Book by Abie Longstaff

My son was a brilliant sleeper.  He was such a chilled baby that he could nap anywhere. I used to take him along to art classes in the pram, lay a coat over him and he’d soon be snoring. Then along came my daughter. She was a little ball of anxiety; colicky, wriggling, crying. She wanted constant back-patting, warm reassurance. And, no; she did not like going to sleep.
If I were placing a curse on my worst enemy, I would give them a baby who did not sleep. It’s a hidden problem – you drag yourself around like a zombie and no one knows quite how exhausted you feel: tired to your very bones. If you also have a toddler, add to this the need to be smiley and bouncy and present for your older child. Every day you hope this will be the night the little one sleeps, every evening you do all the right things – the bath, the calm singing, the back patting. But invariably your hopes are crushed as the second you sneak out of the room, the cries start up. It’s tough going. All you can do it ride it out.
As my daughter grew, together we read a big pile of sleepy baby books. They brought great comfort: for me in knowing that mine wasn’t the only child who wanted to stay up and play; for her in seeing her behaviour mirrored in a picture book. She wasn’t naughty, she just wanted adventures or reassurance.
We loved Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown), How do Dinosaurs say Goodnight (Jane Yolan and Mark Teague) and Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book, and our absolute favourite was The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed by Helen Cooper. 


Of course, my own baby grew up. Then my sister called in a state of utter exhaustion – her little one wouldn’t sleep. It took me back to those tired days, and all the wonderful bedtime books. I decided to create something sleepy and soothing. The result was Who’s going to Bed? (illustrated by Eve Coy).
So, how do you write a good bedtime book?
Concept:
Of course every picture book needs to be interesting and engaging, but there’s a fine line to walk here – don’t aim for too much excitement. You want to find a comfortable level: a bit of adventure, but in a familiar environment. Think of sleepy feelings: swinging, flying, floating, rocking and try to set your story around these. In Who’s Going to Bed, I chose familiar story characters – teddies, animals, pirates, knights - to create a comfortable, recognisable world.

Text:
You need to find a rhythm to your text, something almost lyrical to lull a child to sleep. Repetition, sibilant sounds, soft consonants, long vowels. I’ve included words like ‘sleep’, ‘yawn’, ‘shhhh’, ‘tired’; and increasing their frequency of use toward the end of the book. 

Pictures:
Illustrator Eve Coy has used a limited palette of sleepy blues and greens – there are no loud, sharp colours here. She’s created something soft and gentle and magical. 

The End:
With a bedtime book, you don’t want the end to be too funny or surprising. The aim is to settle and soothe. You want something safe – concepts like home, kiss goodnight, parents, duvet, bed, snuggling, cuddling. And if you can, try to bring the focus onto the reader, rather than the story characters.

I’ve had lovely messages from parents saying their child is yawning at exactly the right moments! I hope the book brings comfort and pleasure. Most of all, I hope the book brings sleep.

Visit Abie's website to find out more about Abie and her wonderful books https://www.abielongstaff.com

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