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.
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.