Time for Bed, Old House
A perfect blend of story and illustrations describing a young boy’s first night away from home.
Time For Bed, Old House, written by Janet Costa Bates and illustrated by AG Ford, is a gem of a book for two reasons: first, the story of a child’s first night away from home is classic, and second, the illustrations will give the reader many opportunities to talk about what the pictures, in addition to the words, can tell us about the boy and his grandfather. The illustration covering the title and publication pages shows an old man and a young boy on the porch of a large, old house, which appears to be located in an isolated rural setting. They are waving at a car driving away, with the female passenger leaning out the window, waving back. The boy is Isaac, and the old man is Grandpop. We can correctly assume those in the car are Isaac’s parents.
Isaac loves his Grandpop, and from the illustration covering the first two pages of the story, we see Isaac and Grandpop on the floor happily playing a board game. Look more closely. There’s a plate of pretzels, sliced apples, and crackers. And to the side of the plate? Yep, a box of juice with a straw! On the other side of the room are blocks already played with. And don’t forget the teddy bear next to Isaac. We know it is getting late because Isaac is wearing PJs bought especially for the sleep-over.
When Grandpop tells Isaac that’s it’s time for bed, Isaac responds with words parents hear all the time, “I’m not sleepy.” And Grandpop’s response? “Then stay awake. But it’s time to put the house to bed.” And so, the story begins with Grandpop’s instructions.
“First, you move kind of quiet and slow.” Next, Grandpop turns off a lamp, “Now let’s make it nice and dark and cozy.” What an ingenious description of the dark! Isaac is okay until a clicking noise scares him. He takes Grandpop’s hand because noises can be scary even if the dark is nice and cozy. But the noise is only the sound of Grandpop’s old dog Snuffles clicking across the hardwood floor. More scary noises are heard: like the wind outside and the creaking of stairs. Windows are closed, and shades lowered. “Looks like the house is closing its eyes to sleep.” These are the-going-to-sleep sounds an old house makes. Grandpop is a genius in my eyes. Who would think of placating an “I’m not sleepy” child with putting the old house, or, for that matter, any house, to bed?
Isaac is to sleep in his “Mommy’s old bedroom.” When Grandpop says it is time for Isaac to read the old house a bedtime story, Isaac tells him he doesn’t read yet. Wise Grandpop sits in a big chair next to the bed, pulls Isaac and bear onto his lap, and asks Isaac to read the pictures. Proof again of Grandpop’s genius. By the end of the book, Grandpop has fallen asleep. I won’t say what Isaac does next. But there is nothing in this book not to love and learn from. Time for Bed, Old House is such a keeper.
Now, bear with me. I’m pulling out my soapbox to expound on why I find picture books like Time for Bed, Old House so wonderfully important. If you are the designated reader to any child, relative, babysitter, or teacher, read the book several times to yourself before reading to the child(ren). Award-winning artist AG Ford’s illustrations in Time for Bed are stellar. Grandpop’s house is filled with objects that that beg for attention. Notice that before Grandpop shows Isaac how to put the old house to bed, the living room is all picked up. The dish of snacks, now empty except for crumbs, is off the floor and on the coffee table. Something else is off the floor and on the table. The container of blocks and the box for the game has also been picked up. Then, if you will, notice the books in the living room and the vase with flowers. What does this tell us about Grandpop? Time for Bed, Old House is a perfect marriage between story and illustrations, between writer and artist.
When I read to my grandkids, I love talking about the story after the initial read. I ask them things like, “How can we tell that Grandpop loves Isaac?” Or, “How do you think Isaac felt when Grandpop did not put up a fuss at I’m not sleepy?” And, of course, the big question, “Do you think Isaac might be a little afraid of sleeping overnight and away from home for the first time?” I don’t care how old my grandkids or I become; I’m hoping that whenever we get together, we will continue to pick out a favorite picture book, read the story, study the illustrations, and have a fun discussion about all the feelings bound up by writer and artist. Picture books are not just for kids. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Janet Costa Bates: Llamas, Iguanas, and My Very Best Friend (out in 2022); Seaside Dreams.
Also available, books illustrated by AG Ford: Isobel Adds It Up; Construction Site Mission: Demolition!; Brown Baby Lullaby; Three Cheers for Kid McGear; Construction Site on Christmas Night; Cookiesaurus Christmas; Littles; Cookiesaurus Rex; Irene’s Wish; Hello, I’m Johnny Cash; Roc and Roe’s Twelve Days of Christmas; Under the Same Sun; JFK; Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to be Malcolm X; Desmond and the Very Mean World; My Daddy, Martin Luther King, Jr.; What Color is My World; Summer Jackson Grown Up; Goal; Our Children Can Soar; First Family; Michelle; Barack.
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