If you’re looking for another bedtime story for your little ones, Jane Smiley’s Twenty Yawns may be exactly what you need.

It’s an exceedingly simple story. Lucy and her parents have a wonderful, long, fun day at the beach. They dig holes, fly kites, and splash in the water. Lucy rolls down the dunes and gets dizzy and sandy.

And by the time the day is over, Lucy and her mom and her dad are all yawning.

It’s a good day for an early bedtime. But Lucy’s mom falls asleep while she’s reading Lucy’s bedtime story. Lucy’s dad falls asleep in the living room with the newspaper in his lap. And the moonlight shining in through the window made everything in the room look mysterious.

Lucy was the only one in the house who was awake. And she needed Molasses, her bear.

But then Hornet the giraffe looked lonely.

And so did Juno the horse.

And Mathilda the alligator.

And Frank the Kangaroo, and his baby Leonard.

And soon they were all snuggled in bed, and all yawning.

When you read Twenty Yawns to your little one at bedtime, have them count the yawns. They’re easy to find – every yawn appears in the illustration and in large, bright letters in the text. And there are exactly twenty yawns in the book.

If they can’t count to twenty, just have them find the yawns. Or, better yet, have them yawn a great big yawn every time someone in the book yawns. If they do that, they may be asleep before Lucy is!

Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo

Twenty Yawns is Jane Smiley’s first picture book. She is, of course, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, but being able to write fabulous books for adults doesn’t always translate into writing fabulous books for children. But Smiley gets everything right. The story is simple and peaceful. The family is warm and loving. Lucy is happy. Everything comes together in a tale that is sweet and comfortable, just right for sweet dreams.

And the watercolor illustrations by Caldecott honor illustrator Lauren Castillo are just right, too. By turns they are bright and mysterious and cozy. They are sweet all the way through.

On some pages, the art goes all the way to the edges. On others, the illustrations are surrounded by white space. Somehow, that helps pace the book.

Lucy’s Family

Although Smiley never mentions it in the story, you can see in Castillo’s illustrations that Lucy’s family is biracial. Her father is white and her mother is black. That makes Twenty Yawns one of those rare books about a family that just happens to be biracial, in a story where race is not a central theme.

That might not seem like a particularly big deal, but the very first picture book published in the US that featured a biracial family was black is brown is tan. Written by Arnold Adoff, it was published in 1973.

If you’re interested in books that feature biracial families, you’ll want to see Blackout. A Caldecott honor book, it features a biracial family in Brooklyn during a power outage.

Read More

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Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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