April 16, 2012

Russell the Sheep

Russell the Sheep
By Rob Scotton; illus. by author
3-4 Preschool Primary Harper Collins 32 pp.
978-0060598501 Hardcover $15.99

As bedtime books go, Russell the Sheep, is a charmer. Russell, a sheep who wears his blue-striped nightcap with whimsey and style (a quality that suffuses all of Scotton's illustrations for the book), cannot fall asleep. While the rest of the flock settles down with their teddy bears and quilts, Russell is wide-awake and no matter how hard he tries, he cannot fall asleep until a very intuitive solution (one that young readers will likely see coming) presents itself just at the break of dawn.

Russell the Sheep treads ground that is both funny and sensitive as Russell tries everything from taking off his fleece in case he's too hot (he's not), to trying to sleep in the hollow of a tree full of fluffy-looking bats but (though the bats seem friendly, it's "too creepy" all the same). As each solution fails, Russell looks progressively more exhausted, yet no nearer to sleep - a state both children and adults can relate to when insomnia strikes. Finally, he decides to count things, which is where savvier preschoolers will begin to see the light at the end of Russell's tunnel. He counts his feet, he counts stars, but it isn't until he counts the sheep of Frogsbottom Field (1-10 in a sly bit of concept integration) that Russell falls asleep.

Scotton's storytelling is solid and his prose is simple and straightforward enough for older toddlers and preschoolers just starting to read aloud. It's also a lovely narrative for bedtime. That said, the story's real charm and humor lie in Scotton's illustrations. With comedic little touches like a granny sheep knitting the fleece right off her companion, rich night-time color, a playful font and soft, textured style, Russell the Sheep is a pleasure to look at, reason enough to come back to it night after night after night.

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