Good night, laila tov, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Jui Ishida, is a quiet celebration of nature, giving back, and Jewish traditions. A young brother and sister go on a family trip with their parents to various outdoor locations. As the children are lulled to sleep by the ocean's waves, or the sound of rain on a tent roof, their parents quietly care for them (assembling the tent, collecting firewood). The parents also show their appreciation for the world, by planting young trees. At the very end of the book, the children have a chance to tend to their tired parents.
Throughout the book, each time the children fall asleep, the refrain "Good night, laila tov" is repeated. I had to read the jacket copy to learn that "laila tov" means "good night" in Hebrew. Thus "good night, laila tov" is a saying that their parents (and nature) offer to the children, wishing them peaceful sleep. I also learned that the tree planting by the parents is part of the Jewish tradition of "tikkun olam", repairing the world.
I like the way that these Jewish words and traditions are integrated into the story (along with the passing images of a Jewish star around the daughter's neck and a menorah in the family's window). Good night, laila tov celebrates the Jewish culture without being heavy-handed about it, or making that the only thing that the book is about. Good night, laila tov is also about the beauty of nature, the quiet efforts of parents, and the security that comes from being part of a family.
Laurel Snyder's text is pure poetry, sometimes snappy and sometimes sleepy, but always engaging to read aloud. Like this:
"We helped our parents plant some trees.
We found some mice.
We found some bees!
The rain came down.
In plips and plops
It hit the ground."
She uses humor, too, with a light touch. Like this:
"We climbed into the sandy car
With all our treasures in a jar.
We stopped for dinner, stopped to see...
Stopped again so I could pee."
The formatting of the text is well-done, too. In the above example, each of the first three lines is separated, used to illustrate a separate part of the picture. The "Good night, laila tov" refrain is always shown in a slightly larger font, with the text curving up and down like a wave, evoking sleep.
Jui Ishida's illustrations are warm and textured, practically begging young children to run their hands along the pages. She fills each page spread with details about nature, from arcs of sunlight on the beach to stars in the night sky. The images aren't completely representational - there's a faintly abstract quality to Ishida's trees, and an idealized quality to the rosy-cheeked children. But they work perfectly with Snyder's lyrical text.
Good night, laila tov is a beautiful bedtime book for any family, perfect for reading on a warm, summer night. The educational aspects about the meaning of laila tov and the idea behind tikkun olam are a delightful bonus, to be absorbed at any age, and explained when children are old enough to understand them. There ought to be more books like this one, books that celebrate specific cultures and religions with a light touch, as part of a larger story. But at least we have Good night, laila tov. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).