The Sleepwalkers is a graphic novel from Viviane Schwarz, the brilliant picture book illustrator and author, and, in her own words, maker of "other useful things." Schwarz's book from 2008, Timothy and the Strong Pajamas, became an immediate favorite of mine, read over and over at story time when I was a bookseller and at home to my kids. While I love all her books, I am thrilled to find elements of Timothy and the Strong Pajamas, from sock monkeys to super strengths to sleep, in The Sleepwalkers. The premise of The Sleepwalkers is logical enough, as a flier at the start of the book announces:
Do you have a bad dream that will not go away? Are you afraid to sleep at night? CALL THE SLEEPWALKERS! Write us a letter, put it under your pillow . . . And we will come and save you! HAVE A GOOD NIGHT! However, dream logic pervades this beautifully illustrated story. Filled with an amazing cast of characters and a stunning array of settings, there are moments of suspense and fear that are quickly overcome by the teamwork and ingenuity of the Sleepwalkers. As the story begins, we find the Sleepwalkers (three friendly but tough looking sheep) rescuing a letter writer from a dream in which she finds herself overcome by ravenous blue mice. Not only do the Sleepwalkers rescue her, but, after taking her back to the Safe House, they give her something to take with her the next time she finds herself trapped in a nightmare. The work of the Sleepwalkers is interrupted briefly by their search for new Sleepwalkers to take their place. The sheep are growing old and tired and are ready to pass on their knowledge and skill to a new trio.
The new recruits have marvelous beginnings, all created by the Sleepwalkers. Buddy, a dog and the only Sleepwalker who can enter the waking world, is sent on a mission to a flea market where he retrieves a very special quilt that, after a brief ceremony that includes much "baa-ing," becomes Bonifacius, an anxious, timid bear. Amali is brought to life from a sock monkey made by the sheep (stuffed with some of their wool) and proves to be boisterous and fearless, but also prone to moments of quiet sadness. Finally, a feather quill used by the glasses-wearing Sleepwalker becomes Sophia, a big, black raven with a head made from the nib of a pen. Knowing everything the Sleepwalkers know, Sophia communicates by writing, although this is no help when the new Sleepwalkers are stuck in the dark...
The better part of The Sleepwalkers is taken up with Bonno, Amali and Sophia, along with Buddy, going on rescue missions and facing nightmares on their own. As if Schwarz hadn't conjured up an incredible world already, the nightmares that these three travel through are filled with creatures you will find yourself returning to and poring over again and again. From a prehistoric plane in the shape of a shiny, silvery pterodactyl that swallows the Sleepwalkers (a cross-section shows them traveling through the metal intestines of the beast) to jungle dwelling creatures made entirely of human hair (not as creepy as it sounds) to my favorite, to an enormous sea turtle that helps the Sleepwalkers rescue a boy who's nightmare takes him to the bottom of the ocean floor, also the ground floor of a formely grand department store, after water has flooded the world. The Sleepwalkers make note of the sturdy carapace of the sea turtle and decide to turn it into a Turlemobile and house it in their garage. Full pages of the graphic novel is dedicates to designs for creating a Turtlemobile, instructions on how to sew your own sock monkey and a recipe for making a banana milkshake, adding yet another layer to this already rich adventure.
Finally, just in case you were wondering, that IS a pair of briefs on the head of Bonno in the cover art. One of the nightmare missions the new Sleepwalkers embark on is a standard N.I.P (naked in public) in which they rescue a boy who finds himself standing in front of his class in only his underwear. They return to the Safe House where they dive into a pile of dress-up clothes and have a grand time. Somehow, Bonno ends up with a underwear luchador mask... For more of Schwarz's active imagination, visit her blog, Letters from Schwarzville.
Other fantastic books by Viviane Schwarz!
A Place to Call Home, written by Alexis Deacon
Source: Review Copy