Timothy and the Strong Pajamas by Viviane Schwarz has long been a favorite of mine, a book I read often when I was a bookseller at story times and just as many times, if not more, at home to my kids. It even made it on to my first-ever Best Picture Books of the Year list in 2008. I never reviewed it because it seemed to go out of print for a while. But, as I was writing my reviews of Schwarz's newest books, The Sleepwalkers and Welcome to Your Aweseom Robot, I discovered it IS still in print and raced to write a review and encourage you to buy this book for your own family and give it as a gift as often as you can. I know, without a doubt, that Timothy and the Strong Pajamas is the kind of book that, no matter how distant and obscure it may seem in a decade or two or three, will be the kind of book (like Miss Jaster's Garden by NM Bodecker is for me) that stays in a child's memory well into adulthood and brings joy when read again, especially to new listeners.
Timothy and the Strong Pajamas begins, "This is the story of Timothy Smallbeast. He wasn't big. ANd he wasn't strong. (But he really really wished he was.)" Timothy and his best friend Monkey have an evening strengthening routine that includes doing exercises, drinking a mug of fortified milk and crunching up "three extra-tough cookies," then thinking STRONG thoughts. However...
Because it is the weekend, Timothy's mother agrees to let him wear his pajamas all day. Timothy and Monkey find themselves off on a day of adventure, rescuing those in need left and right! An elephant lady falls off a cliff as she is picking berries. And old lady gets help with her grocery bags. A princess, some sailors, a zookeeper and a kitten also benefit from Timothy's Patches of Power and Buttons of Braveness. But, as Timothy and Monkey are headed home, their final rescue of the day proves to be the most perilous. An enormous, sad, tired bear can't find his way home so Timothy gives him a lift, letting him snuggle Monkey along the way. Setting the bear down in the forest, Timothy not only rips his pajamas on the bear's claw, but also sets the bear down on top of Monkey. His power gone with the rip in his pajamas, Timothy can't rescue his beloved friend and make it home in time for bed. But, help for the helper is on the way and everything works out in the end. Timothy falls asleep in his mother's arms as she mends his pajamas. The final page of the book shows Timothy the next day, trying out the new super power his mother's magical stitches have imbued his stripey old pajamas with...
Above all else, Timothy and the Strong Pajamas is sweet without being at all syrupy from start to finish, embodying some of the best things in life - comfy pajamas, a loving and understanding mother and helping and being helped by others. Schwarz's Timothy embodies the essence of a child's imagination in a way that feels more genuine than most attempts made in picture books. And Timothy's relationship with his mother, while understated, is a delightful and wonderful example of this quote from Jonas Salk, "Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what's been taught them." I first read in another picture book about 20 years ago when my first child was born, Maira Kalman's Max Makes a Million, about a dog who dreams of moving to Paris and becoming a poet. It stuck with me just like I know Timothy and the Strong Pajamas will stick with you and your children.
Other fantastic books by Viviane Schwarz!
A Place to Call Home, written by Alexis Deacon