While Everyone is Sleeping Brings the Magic of the Moonlight

While Everyone is Sleeping : A New Release From Sarah Mackenzie

Sarah Mackenzie’s second book, While Everyone is Sleeping, is out!

Well-written books have a way of guiding the voice of the reader who reads aloud. It may subtly lead one to an Italian accents or an Irish brogue, as in Tommy DePaola’s books. It may be the inflamed distress of a baby bird aboard a “Snort” as in Are You My Mother?

As the founder of Read Aloud Revival, Sarah Mackenzie’s podcasts and book recommendations clearly show that she knows what makes a good read-aloud. A Little More Beautiful, her first book, showed her fans and (now) readers that she could craft a story, use visual storytelling, move hearts by showing and not telling, and that she can go deep and global in the importance of a message while being utterly sweet and approach (not unlike the personality one perceives in her podcast and video interviews.”

So what would Mackenzie do in her second book, While Everyone is Sleeping, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimand and published by Mackenzie’s new publishing house, Waxwing Books?

As a reminder, no publisher would A Little More Beautiful, so the team began a Kickstarter campaign to bring the book to print. They set a goal to raise $50,000. Within hours, it passed $100,000; and by the time the window closed, they raised over $200,000.

The hardbound illustrated books, While Everybody is Sleeping, designed by Cara Llewellyn, approaches the reader in an unassuming manner as a tiny shrew looks up at the title in a gently scrolling font encircled by a full moon. There are fireflies about, and a clear coating over their bodies and the stars in the night sky catch and reflect the light of the well-lit or lamp-lit rooms we read in. It’s a minor detail, but it’s the little details that make books become magical. We open to the end pages of moonflowers before turning to our title page, which repeats the and book jacket.

The story begins.

A little shrew. A little world. He ventures into the unknown.

Secrets. Curiosity.

We see the story from his perspective, looking into the dark.

The illustrations are lovely, dark and deep, relying on the moon to illuminate the scenes.

“Where is the light coming from?” I ask my homeschooled children when we study fine art.

When you can ask your children the same about an illustrated picture book, you have something very special indeed.

Adventure can be exhilarating and frightening. Mackenzie takes us through the waves of emotion in this first-person narrative.

And then the story turns.

Our preconceived ideas about what the night is like begin to shift and morph and finally disappear altogether as the little shrew discovers a world he never knew existed, and so it is much more magical than he, or we, ever thought possible.

When G.K. Chesteron wrote about fastasy writer George MacDonald and the book The Princess and the Goblin he wrote:

“When I read it as a child, I felt that the whole thing was happening inside a real human house, not essentially unlike the house I was living in, which also had staircases and rooms and cellars. This is where the fairy-tale differed from many other fairy-tales; above all, this is where the philosophy differed from many other philosophies.”

MacDonald’s fairy tale achieved the feat of “making all the ordinary staircases and doors and windows into magical things.”

When the story ends, the magic remains. Of MacDonald, C.S. Lewis wrote:

“But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the read world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged.”

It was not that MacDonald wrote about fairies and goblins; it was that the magic he wrote about had the power to transform and fill what we see in the ordinary light of day and the “real world.” We must maintain a child’s imagination. We must see dinosaurs when we see “snorts” or excavators. We must see fairies crawl out of the bell-shaped blooms of lilies of the valley or campanula. I hope we glimpse new worlds when we look up at the moon.

Here, Mackenzie plays with the magic of reality when we quiet ourselves, stop, look and listen, and discover that whole and real worlds exist in the ordinarily unseen. And then she brings the magic: the moonflower.

A moonflower is a trumpet flower. Production for use. What are trumpets for?

To play, of course!

And this idea, the world of this little story, dives into with abandon.

Who’s to say this doesn’t really happen?

Who’s to say our toys don’t hold deep existential discussions on the nature of reality when we are asleep?

We could never know, being too big to hear the sound or too noisy to invite the play. That is part of the magic.

That is part of the magnificence of While Everyone is Sleeping.

For those who purchase this newly released book through Waxwing Books, Sarah Mackenzie is offering a free family book club guide that provide the heart of what Read Aloud Revival offers: many education, diverse and multi-subject ways to approach, enhance and explore the goodness of a book and engage the rest of our minds in the process. That will include a brief education on flora, fauna, and rhyme scheme, and the backstory of how the story gets made.

I did not know what to expect when the book comes. A little creature wandering around at night is a familiar theme in the world of the creatures books. I wasn’t prepared for the magic.

Read this book aloud the first time you read it.

Let the tone and magic carry you through. Embrace the delight of the natural world, the world of fairies and imagination, and the beautiful, immersive world of a masterful picture book.

Sarah Mackenzie’s next book will be out March 5, 2024. It’s called Because Barbara: Barbara Cooney Paints Her World.

One last note: Mackenzie has wonderful educational ideas to accompany this book in her family book club guide. One more activity for older readers: compare and contrast, find the parallels between this book and George MacDonald’s Phantastes.

What Kind of Book is A Little More Beautiful?

The wait is over. The book, A Little More Beautiful is out!

No publisher would take it. So she began her own publishing company. Sarah Mackenzie, who founded and runs Read-Aloud Revival, an expert in what makes a picture book a work of art, is now a published author. A Little More Beautiful began arriving at houses in March. 

Seven months ago they set a goal to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter to fund the project. Within hours it passed $100,000 and by the time the window closed raised $200,000 towards published. 

Now the book is out with another book by Waxwing publishers in the works. Waxwing is a boutique publishing company, meaning the team will publish a small number of, I gather, remarkable books if this first book is any indication.

A Little More Beautiful does everything Mackenzie has prized a good read-aloud picture book for.

It clearly grounds the reader in a sense of place and time with a remarkably minimal amount of words with the same clarity as Virginia Lee Burton, in The Little House.

It uses the poetic repetition that makes excellent read-aloud picture books so delicious with the same ear as Robert McCloskey, in Burt Dow, Deep Water Man or Make Way for Ducklings.

A Little More Beautiful moves perfectly from storytelling with words, introducing readers to place and characters, before shifting to storytelling with pictures, actively engaging the reader’s imagination. The reader sees the story unfold, like Mac Barnett, particularly in Sam and Dave Dig A Hole. And for the finale, she deftly brings the reader back to just enough words, with the imagination fully engaged, holding the weight of what those words mean throughout the story. 

Mackenzie did not just set out to write a good book.

Knowing that when all the pieces of a picture book work together, we sink into the whole experience. Children’s literature is an art unto itself. 

Like Mac Barnett, she uses the size and shape and layout of the book to emphasize the story. Mackenzie did not do this alone but hired book designer Cara Llewellyn to lay out the words and pages in their artful attire. 

Breezy Brookshire illustrated A Little More Beautiful in soft watercolors. The beauty is breathtaking. It’s no wonder they offered these as art prints in the bonus purchases on Kickstarter.

But as much as Mackenzie takes the absolute best of children’s literature techniques to craft the story, there is something much deeper here. 

The theme of A Little More Beautiful tells the story of the need to be connected. We are interpersonal beings and need relationships. We can connect through books, as Mackenzie has done with thousands of people in her podcast and community of read-aloud revival premium members. Mackenzie teaches that the love of literature is often born in the connection of occurs in the shared experience of reading aloud. 

Yet, we connect over all different kinds of mediums. We see this bond in the two main characters of A Little More Beautiful. She also connects with Lou Alice in a shared love of flowers. We influence each other from afar.

The material good we bring about is good, but it is not enough.

Something is missing if we do not have relationships.

How many of us have left a place and been forgotten about, or feared that would be the case? What will our legacy be without social media to capture it or something concrete to show us?

That will not complete us, and the world would be lacking something if we stopped there. If we stopped at the human connection and left those who have lost the ability to live independently, who are too often seen as burdens on society or their family. It isn’t so. 

I think back to the conversations I had with Cindy Morphy in August last year during National Night Out. “It’s okay for any of us when you see neighbors that you talk to them, but you also need to say, where is the neighbor that’s not here? I think we need to make neighbors aware of neighbors and who’s missing and how we can help those there might need love. We need to know our neighbors,” Morphy said. 

Not every story needs to moralize.

Mackenzie shows and does not tell us the good we can do when we remember one another, and when we act on that impulse to give. The little girl in the story, breezes through the book with the vitality of youth, bursting in with a gift of love. She is innocent and good, not inhibited by the message too many in our world receive, “don’t worry about it, let someone else take care of it.” The book reminds us that no, you have a gift to give. You are needed. And you can make the world a little more beautiful.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

“Sweep” swept my heart away

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Book Cover of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (May 5, 2020) written by Jonathan Auxier is one of those remarkable, read-aloud books for all ages. Sarah Mackenzie, the host of the Read-Aloud Revival described Sweep as having “won a place in my all-time tippy top favorite books” and rightly so. She described it thus,

“He’s large and lovable and Nan, our heroine will raise him almost like her own child. He is in the end, her protector. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is a book by Jonathan Auxier… It’s a Charles Dickens-like adventure about the everlasting gifts of friendship and wonder. The deep moments reflect the reality and nature of parenting and the wonder we experience when we see the world through the wonder of our child’s eyes.”

Mackenzie’s description, her incredible taste in good books, and the interview with the author pushed this book to the top of my list. I immediately reserved it at the library. The Saturday after it came, we settled down in the living room ready for me to read aloud. I have read only one other chapter book to my children, the name of which escapes me because I yawned through it and disliked the ending so much. It was not the ending it should have had, not the one the story led up to, and so it cheapened the emotions the author drew out of the reader.

Sweep does not do this at all.

The ending is joyful but did not come cheaply or without difficult things happening without which it never would have been possible.

C.S Lewis wrote

“To love is to be vulnerable.”

So all love will come with some sacrifice, some pain.

Auxier knows this and the vulnerability of love, for which one gives of himself or herself, is at the heart of this book. He writes, through his characters,

“We save ourselves by saving others.”

This is the gift of self through which we can truly find who we are, as Pope Paul VI wrote about in “Guadium et Spes.”

We can try to hold onto what we love by asking them to promise never to help others, never to give of themselves, but this is wrong. It is wrong to desire others to not sacrifice themselves because you want to see them preserved at all costs.

It means a great deal to me when an author will not shy away from the full nature of love.

In an interview, poet Dana Gioia told Russ Roberts,

“’There is no holiday without ghosts.’ And, I think that’s true. As you get older and you lose people, every joy you have is qualified by your losses. But, in a weird way, that amplifies your joy and makes your memory bearable.”

It isn’t the darkness of the book that matters to me. It is the willingness of the author to allow loss to amplify joy. This is when I find real life on the pages. And I found that realness of life in Sweep.

Indeed, in the end notes, the author wrote his daughter has down syndrome and was born with a congenital heart defect that required open heart surgery,

“I had to make a choice to love someone who I knew could very likely break my heart beyond repair.”

And so we read Sweep aloud.

While the above reflections span the deep, we laughed a lot during the book.

Every scene counts. The structure is perfect. We read chapters that represent “before” and my daughter points out to me that these always come following a chapter end in which she goes to sleep. These are her dreams, they are not merely flashbacks inserted here and there.

The book is divided into two parts, “Innocence” and “Experience,” taken from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and draws in Blake’s work through two poems both titled, “The Chimney Sweeper.”

The last chapters of the book perfectly recall the past, where we have been through all these chapters. Reading aloud brought out the impact of this.

The dialogue and language throughout are wonderful. The dialogue offers some regional subtleties that are there for those with ears to hear, but not so much that it distracts us. The characters are utterly consistent and true to their nature.

The villain is real. For the secondary villain, we are given a glimpse of how one can actually become a monster. We are allowed to see how Charlie could become a monster. Auxier references Frankenstein here – the novel – which addresses this lesson exactly. The man and monster formed in his custody, the lessons taught to the naïve monster, the question of who is the real monster. Roger is in Crudd’s custody. Charlie is in Nan’s.

Busy hands stopped to listen as I read on and we bonded in the discovery of what came next.

Sweep is recommended for ages 8-12 years old but this is a mere measure of literacy. As a read-aloud, I found my husband, children, ages 6-12 years, and myself captivated.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.