An exquisite exploration of the magic and mystery of night-time, Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai (translated by Cathy Hirano) is a soothing exploration of the peace, calm, and quiet that can be found in the midnight hours.
A young child wakes up in the middle of the night. The rest of her family are asleep and she uses this opportunity to have a small adventure, shared with just her pet cat. Hannah is clearly not scared of the night, but rather fascinated and delighted to have this secret time just to herself. She sneaks a treat from the fridge, she gently extricates her big sister’s doll from her sleeping arms, she gets to see the magic of dawn, a gift all for herself alone, before sleepiness finally takes over once more; with her own bed full of toys, she snuggles up on her sister’s bed and falls peacefully asleep.
Whilst of course books about being frightened of the dark reflect a common childhood experience, there is something very refreshing about this alternative view of the darkness; it’s exciting, it’s gentle, it is special. Rather than something to be feared and managed, night time can be magical and full of adventure.
Sakai’s illustrations are stunning; using acryl gouache and oil pencils on cardboard she has created hugely textured images, using lots of blue shades to create soothing cameos, each bounded by a painted frame. The containment of the image seems to match Hannah’s psychology; these night-time hours are safe, Hannah herself feels self-contained, and there is no threat from outside.
I suspect this book will be on my end of year best-of-the-best list, but do yourself a favour and don’t wait till December to track it down.
To see more of Sakai’s artwork, and find out more about her background, don’t miss this great interview with her over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. You might also find this interview with Cathy Hirano (the translator) fascinating.
Our response to Hannah’s Night was to try making art similar to Sakai’s. We cut out cardboard shapes and painted them using lots of acrylic paint and anything which could act as scrapers – thin and thick craft lollipop sticks and one palette knife I found for filling in holes in walls with putty. I wanted the experience to be at least as much about the process – the almost sculptural experience of using very thick paint, and applying it as if it were thick butter, rather than delicately with small brushes.
We prepared our “canvases” by scraping a background and then surrounding them with a “frame”, mirroring Sakai’s own framing of each illustration. I also showed the girls some Howard Hodgkin’s paintings at this point; although his use of colour is very different to that of Sakai in this book, he too appears to use blades/scrapers rather than brushes a lot of the time, and to “frame” his work with a painted border (which, just like Sakai’s, is often breached).
Once our “canvases” were dry the girls experienced painting as a sensory activity, applying more paint. so thick and malleable, to their cardboard pieces. At first they found it quite hard to use the scrapers because it was such a different experience to using brushes, but they soon started enjoying the freedom of the broad, textural strokes.
Whilst painting we listened to:
Other activities which could be fun to try alongside reading Hannah’s Night include:
What are your favourite books about night time?
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Hannah’s Night by the distributors. I was not obliged to write a review, and I was not paid for doing so.