Two by Two: Two Children's Books for a Good Night's Sleep

Two by Two is an exciting children literature project. Its purpose is to bring more or less known children books in the attention of teachers, parents and children around the world, paired on specific themes such as death, communication, self esteem, anger management, friendship or unconditional love. A lot of these books were brought to my attention by a very dear friend, with whom I share  the passion for child literature. Almost all of these books are in my personal library, carefully chosen to fulfill some of the criteria described here, and have been used during my teaching classes. The children I work with had wonderful reactions to them, and this has inspired me to write this Two by Two series.

Two by Two: Two Children's Books for Good Night's Sleep

1. Silly Billy, Anthony Browne

Anthony Browne is an amazing British artist! I really love both his illustrations and his stories. The stories are original, profound and insightful and deal with different facets of childhood. His illustrations are brilliant! They are often full of hidden meanings which children can discover gradually. Browne  uses different characters from famous classical paintings to educate children on the history of art or to express certain feelings in an unconventional way. He also uses gorillas as characters, being inspired by real stories and the contrast between their strength and their humanity and gentleness.  

Silly Billy is a book that can help children deal with anxiety and some of the fears they face when they go to bed. Browne leaves nothing to chance. If you carefully analyze the cover you will see something that looks like a doll, with a sad face, and a boy walking towards the future with a happy face. These two clues make you curious from the start to discover Billy's story and why he's called silly in the title. 

From the very fist pages we find out Billy was a boy who would worry about a lot of things. Not to give children ideas of real things to worry about, the author had Billy worry about hats and shoes, clouds and rain and giant birds, fears that are not at all common among children. The use of black and white for the illustrations of Billy's fears are very compelling. Browne also makes references to the work of Magritte by using his style of drawing the hats.

Of course his parents tried to talk to him, and reassure him they are there to protect him. But for Billy this was not enough. One night, he had to sleep at his grandmother's house.  He got particularly worried when he slept in other places, and and his anxiety grew, he felt a bit ridiculous and went into his grandma's room. 

His grandma reassured him that he wasn't silly at all! She then came with a solution for his worries, some worry dolls for him to tell all his worry to, and put them under his pillow. They would take his worries for him, and he could sleep in peace. Billy tried the worrying dolls and for three days he slept very well. 

But soon, Billy got worried again! He felt bad for the worry dolls, to carry all the weight of his worries for him, so he decided do to some crafty work and make some worry dolls for his worry dolls!

And that was the end of Billy's worries. At the end of the book we get a short explanation. These worry dolls actually come from Guatemala, where children would make them from wood, colorful pieces of cloth and thread. They have proven to be quite useful for children, and today they are even used in certain hospitals to help children deal with their fears. 

Many teachers accompany this books with discussions about fears or with practical activities. The dolls are easy to make. Here is an example of a doll making activity inspired by the book. Another example of activity is this animation made by the children of Columbia Primary School for the London's Children Film Festival (2009).  You can find many articles and interviews with Anthony Browne on the internet. Here is a series of 6 clips from a conference where he spoke about his inspiration and the stories behind his books and illustrations!

2. The Little Giant, Philippe Dumas

For the second book I choose one a little bit easier and with no negative emotional charge. Philippe Dumas's story is perfect for a warm, cosy, full of fantasy bedtime read.

The book has a witty start as the author presents the two main characters: a boy and a girl who broke anything and never spoke bad words. The little readers are reassured as they flip the page and discover the boy and the girl were two plastic dolls!

The owner of the dolls, a little giant girl, was happy to play and sleep with them. During the day, she was a giant, but at night, she would lessen into their size and they would tip toe out of their room and eventually out of the house. They would travel on the dog and roam the fields at night. Run through the wind, watch the stars, the animals of the night, the sounds of the nature. They would swim with the ducks and make fire for the butterflies. They would then stop at the rabbits den, where they would be awaited with tea or warm onion soup, listen to stories, then sit on trees with the crows and pass by the cows in the field on their way back. As the night grew shorter they would hurry back home. The little girl would regain her normal size. And as soon as they jumped back into bed the morning light would come trough the window, and together with it, the biggest giants would come into the room to say good morning! 

For me this story is more than just a simple tale. With the help of beautiful, colored illustrations, it proposes an exercise of imagination, empathy and a lesson for both children and adults on how the world is scaled and the magic of childhood. As a montessorian, this book is perfect not only for children but for all the adults who yet need to understand the relevance of child sized environments for their children's proper development!

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