2016 in [Book] Review Books It's Monday What Are You Reading Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Of Imaginary Creatures that Come Alive In The Night in “Henry & Leo” and “The Sleeping Gypsy”


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.


One of the challenges I faced as I borrowed a stack of 2016 picturebooks for our current reading theme is how to group them together in a way that made some sense. These two lovely titles show the powers of dreaming, and how night can magically transform imaginary creatures into being.

henryHenry & Leo

Written and Illustrated by: Pamela Zagarenski
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 ISBN: 0544648110 (ISBN13: 9780544648111)
Borrowed a copy from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Henry has a favourite stuffed animal, a cuddly lion he named Leo. He never goes anywhere without Leo, whom he considers his best friend in the whole wide world. Ever since Henry received him as a gift on his second birthday, they were inseparable. While his older sister would tease him mercilessly and tell him that toys aren’t real, Henry strongly believes otherwise.


When Henry and his family went for a walk in The Nearby Woods, Henry naturally brought Leo with him. However, Henry became very tired late into the day and his father eventually carried him back home as he slept. Reminiscent of Carter Goodrich’s We Forgot BrockLeo was left behind and Henry was naturally heartbroken, even as his family tried to comfort him.


Then Zagarenski zooms in on Leo left on his own in The Nearby Woods – and in wordless full-spread exquisite pages, the story unfolds as Leo found his way back home ala Toy Story, with the help of forest creatures.


While I am in love with Zagarenski’s masterful art, I always find myself on the fence with her text-narrative. Regardless, I still think that this would be a wonderful tale that young children with beloved cuddly ones would surely enjoy.

The Sleeping Gypsygypsy

Written and Illustrated by: Mordicai Gerstein
Published by: Holiday House, 2016 ISBN: 0823421422 (ISBN13: 9780823421428)
Borrowed a copy from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

The story begins with a young girl looking at Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy (1897) and wondering about who the girl in the painting is. There are quite a number of questions and ruminations inspired by the sense of danger evoked in the story as a fierce lion sniffs and stands over the sleeping gypsy. Gerstein explained that this book is an attempt to provide some answers to questions he himself asked when he was around eight or nine and saw the painting in a magazine, as he wrote in his Author’s Note at the end of the book.


And so the story began with a gypsy walking alone across a desert, inside Rousseau’s dream. She had a bundle of bread, cheese, and dates with her which she ate when she became hungry. I especially loved how she sang alone in the night skies accompanied by her mandolin, until finally she grew tired and fell asleep.


As the gypsy slept quite fitfully, creatures slowly approached her sleeping form, curious as to who she was and what she was doing there, until a fierce lion roared “She is Mine!” as he sniffed at her hair:


This sense of menace ended abruptly when another approaching figure came, a man bearing easel and paints – as he tried to capture the stage set by the sleeping form alongside the fascinated, curious creatures:


With imperious commands, he asked the creatures to move this way and that as he tried to capture them in their best possible angle in just the right amount of light. I truly enjoyed reading this especially since I have just featured The Fantastic Jungles Of Henri Rousseau which I believe would pair well with this picturebook. Mordicai Gerstein has once again proven how timeless art could inspire even more artistic musings and ruminations, echoing what Edgar Allan Poe realized in his short, tortured life about everything being but “a dream within a dream.”

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

8 comments on “[Monday Reading] Of Imaginary Creatures that Come Alive In The Night in “Henry & Leo” and “The Sleeping Gypsy”

  1. I was talking about Henry and Leo with some colleagues recently, and trying to figure out why the characters all have crowns. Any ideas? Still a beautiful books, just an unusual little quirk!


  2. The illustrations for Henry and Leo are so adorable! I hope you enjoy reading this week.

    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.


  3. I shared Henry & Leo today, too, love Zagarenski’s art. Thanks for this one about Rousseau’s painting. What a wonderful imagination!


  4. I loved Henry and Leo! I’ll have to check out The Sleeping Gypsy. Looks great!


  5. Billbrarian

    My library to-purchase list just keeps getting bigger. These look wonderful!


  6. These illustrations from Pamela Zagarenski & Mordicai Gerstein remind me why I love picture books. I am consistently awed that we get to take home these little parcels of fine art from the library, and keep them for a few weeks before we return them. Sometimes I don’t even care about the story.


  7. Oh, Henry and Leo – that’s a book of the heart, for sure. Thanks for letting me know about the Mordicai Gerstein book, Myra – that man is a genius!


  8. Pamela Zagarenski’s art is amazing. I should give her other books a try!


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