Eugene Field's Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, written in 1889, was one of my favorite poems as a child. My grandparents had a battered, illustrated copy. I don't remember the details very well, but the couplet:
"Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe"
still has the power to make me smile. There's something about the promise of these three sailing off one night, combined with the whimsy of their vessel being a wooden shoe, that has a timeless appeal. (You can find the complete poem here, at the UMass Amherst website.)
Illustrator Giselle Potter apparently felt the same way when she ran across this poem, and that spark led to this new picture book version of the poem. She says in an illustrator's note: "Although it is one of the shortest, simplest texts I've ever illustrated, it was by far the most challenging." I think that she pulled it off. Her illustrations are a combination of pencil, ink, gouache, gesso, and watercolor, with a luminous, blue and green palette that reflects the night sky and the sea. The text is hand-lettered, giving a bit of an old-fashioned flavor to the book, and is closely integrated with the pictures, increasing visual interest. The moon and the "little stars (that) were the herring fish" both have a slightly unearthly glow, while Wynken, Blynken and Nod are identical triplets with oddly mature features (see Pinot and Prose on this topic). I think that their appearance adds to the nostalgic feel of the book, and to the otherworldly nature of the poem.
The poem itself is beautiful ("Sailed on a river of crystal light/Into a sea of dew"), with a rhythm that begs to be read aloud. Like this:
"All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam ~
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home."
Don't you want to read it aloud?
Potter uses the illustrations to play a bit with the poem's end, in which the reader learns that:
"Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one's trundle-bed."
She show the boy lying in bed, holding on to two of the herring fish, with the expressive moon in the background. Is the boy real? Are the fish real? Or is it all a dream? I found this part a bit spooky, for some reason. But I think that kids, and their parents, will enjoy this as a bedtime read. It's nice to see such a classic poem refreshed by modern, loving illustrations. This title would make an excellent new baby gift.
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publication Date: May 13, 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: A Patchwork of Books, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Author Interviews: Spraygraphic
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.