Everyone's Awake, written by Colin Meloy & illustrated by Shawn Harris
by Colin Meloy
illustrated by Shawn Harris
Review Copy from Chronicle Books
When I was a kid, well before the internet, back when we had to consult an encyclopedia or write a letter and send it through the postal service if we wanted to get an answer, my favorite kind of book was the kind that referenced other, real books. That's how I educated myself - by reading the flaps, the dedications and author's notes and following them like a trail of bread crumbs to a new literary adventure. Reading Meloy and Harris's Everyone's Awake took me back to those days and sent me down a rabbit hole, albeit one with millions of facts (and fictions) just a few keystrokes away. There are so many superb adjectives and superlatives to describe the bouncing, boundless creativity and energy that sings and zings off every marvelously rhyming page of this picture book, and there are plenty of reviews highlighting this fine quality. What I want to feature in my review are the details that you may notice on your first reading, or maybe on your fiftieth. Please note that the illustrations included here appear almost washed out when compared to the actual book itself. The vibrancy of the palette Harris chose for his illustrations pairs so perfectly with Meloy's words, amping up the voltage of the antics of this energetically awake family.
In this moment in time when most of America and the world are sheltering in place, Everyone's Awake reads like a glimpse through the window at a family making the most of their time. Meloy begins, "The crickets are all peeping. The moon shines on the lake. We should be soundly sleeping. But everyone's awake." Tucked in bed, one eye open, the narrator takes readers through the house where parents, Grandma, brother, sister, cat and dog are at least, "getting some things done!" To this family of five, Harris adds a plague of frogs, a mob of mice and a ghost ship emerges, glowing in the dark night, from the pond in front of the wakeful house. My first dive down a rabbit hole came early on in Everyone's Awake, with the creation of a "laundry list of every book" the narrator's brother has read. As someone who has been enthusiastically reading children's books books my entire adult life, reviewing them for 12+ years and offering the service of personalized book lists compile by an expert (me) for almost as long, this laundry list is PERFECT for a curious 10-year-old who loves to read. There are nods to contemporary authors - Harris's circle of friends? - (Wildwood Chronicles, The Apothecary, The Language of Spells, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Mac B. Kid Spy, The Nest) including a title from my Top 5 List, The True Meaning of Smekday. There are classics (Matilda, Peter Pan, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Pinocchio, The Nutcracker, Through the Looking Glass, The Sword in the Stone) along with a childhood favorite of mine that left an indelible mark on my imagination, The House with the Clock in Its Walls. Harris also includes two more titles from my Top 5 List: my all-time favorite and one of the first books I reviewed here, Abel's Island, and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, a series of books that is so stunning I have not been able to write a review, despite trying often over the last 12 years. Along with stellar graphic novels (Jane, the Fox and Me, Lowriders in Space) on the laundry list (but probably not for the imaginary 10-year-old I would give this list to) are YA titles like The Hate U Give and The Poet X and graphic novels like This One Summer and Blankets. An interview for Publishers Weekly where Meloy and Harris asked each other questions reveals that this laundry list is actually Harris's own reading list he worked through while illustrating this book! Harris also shared that he was reading Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt which, "probably influenced some of the mystical, fairy-tael-ish liberties the illustrations took, like the plague of frogs, or the ghost ship rising from the lake." (see title page, above)
Plague of frogs! Charles Fort! Chasing Vermeer - Blue Balliet's book that introduced me to the skeptic who studied odd phenomena and astonishing facts. Other rabbit-hole-worthy dives in Everyone's Awake feature Baudelaire, Prince (which Meloy rhymes with "chintz" and Harris brings to the page with images of the vinyl album covers for Prince [where he looks a bit more like Frank Zappa] and 1999), the animated show Condorman, Sinatra, whist (Grandma and the ghost of Grandpa Paul are playing at a table near a bookshelf stocked with more titles & author/illustrators worth searching up), Queen Sigrid the Third (also known as Sigrid the Haughty and probably entirely fictional), the Pulitzer, a coup d'état and the résistance. The begins their all-nighter with tame activities, like needlework and bread baking, gradually escalating to tap dancing, "trapezing from the kitchen ceiling fan," making a blimp out of Dad's old underpants, joining a miming troupe, and building a "temple from discarded toothpaste tops." The dog throws darts at the bedroom wall and the cat gets up to "prank-calling the cops" and giving poke tattoos while being taught 12 dirty words by the narrator's brother.
Does it even really matter how the book ends? In fact, it's a little sad when the sun comes up and the narrator finally gets out of bed and heads downstairs to find his family asleep on the living room floor. Everyone's Awake is a feast you can dine out on night after night, all night long!