A young sheep can’t sleep. A young sheep counts sheep to sleep. But one is missing.
Go To Sleep is the story of a sheep named Tansy, written by Marion Adams and illustrated by a veteran to children’s picture books, Sarah-Leigh Wills.
Tansy can’t seem to fall asleep among her flock in the moors of Lark Tor Farm. As an American, I was immediately pulled into the exotic setting of what I presume to be the Scottish highlands. I’ve actually been there, and Sara-Leigh Wills watercolor illustration captures the feel perfectly. Her illustrations captures the night and the countryside and the characters perfectly – not with photo realism, but with a heavy emphasis on only a few colors.
When the wise barn owl suggests Tansy count sheep to help fall asleep, she does exactly that. And fortunately, there are 20 sheep in her flock she can count. But when she gets finished, she only counts 19. One is missing. Her mistake is obvious to the reader, which makes Tansy’s speculation as to what may have happened all the more amusing.
And in Tansy’s speculation, we see a real difference between English and American sensibilities. Tansy’s fantasies of what happened to this missing sheep are wonderfully grim. Here the story and the art both remind me of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tines , or the old-school versions of A Brother’s Grim Fairy Tales. I thought this was a wonderful addition to the book.
Is it too grim for American children? No, it’s just right. The reader knows that Tansy made a mistake in counting, which heightens the hyperbole of Tansy’s fears for this missing sheep. Anything less and the joke wouldn’t be funny. And honestly, I think many parents will welcome the introduction of a dash of grim realism in a picture book market that has become perhaps overly obsessed with protecting children. See my article, Let’s Take Public Executions Out of the Classroom, for a great example of over-protecting children.
The story is resolved with the help of the sheep dog, who gives a great example of showing kindness to someone who makes a mistake. In the end, the barn owl’s advice worked. All of this counting sheep calamity wares Tansy out, and she’s able to sleep.
This award-winning picture book is definitely worth the journey. The illustrations pull you into the Scottish moors, and the story is both delightful and unexpected. I’d highly recommend it to my American audience, especially since you can read it for FREE with Kindle Unlimited. As a consumer, you can check out the book there. But for your children, I’d definitely buy the paperback edition on Amazon (reading an eBook to a child isn’t the same as an actual book).