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BOOKS: Quick, quiet book holds powerful, layered story

Lena manages to control her situation when a scary moon and some scared sheep keep her from sleeping. (Submitted photo)

By Jean Patrick

Republic Book Columnist

“Lena’s Sleep Sheep,” by Anita Lobel, is a quiet book, but not without challenges.

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It all begins with a settled calm. Mama and Papa hug Lena and kiss her good-night. But Lena wants the curtain open so that the moon will keep her company. She’s sure that her sheep will like him. “They will like his sweet face, too,” she says.

Little does she know what will happen.

When it’s time for her sheep to help her sleep, they won’t line up. They won’t even come out from behind the curtains. They see the moon sticking out his tongue and bolt under the bed, certain that the “round monster” will eat them.

Lena answers (with a powerful pun): “He’s not hungry. He’s already full.”

But the sheep are still scared. So Lena comes up with a plan. She opens her closet door and tells them to dress up so that the moon won’t recognize them. The plan succeeds, but Lena ends up with another problem — and she’s no closer to getting to sleep.

Author and illustrator Anita Lobel gives young readers plenty to look at during the story. The toy rabbit on Lena’s pillow imitates her posture. The clown on the window sill subtly reflects the mood of the sheep — either relaxed of fearful.

Meanwhile, the moon is ambiguous. Although he makes a horrid face at the sheep, he is also a kind presence. Since Lena doesn’t fear him, readers are also likely to be brave.

“Lena’s Sleep Sheep” is a short book, just the right length for bedtime reading. Yet it is a rich, two-fold story. The fearful sheep become victorious believing they have defeated the moon. Meanwhile Lena retains control, bringing order to her unusual night.

Anita Lobel has illustrated more than 50 books, beginning with “Sven’s Bridge” in 1965. She also received a Caldecott Honor for “On Market Street.”

“Lena’s Sleep Sheep.” By Anita Lobel. Knopf, 2013. 32 pp.