The Sealey Challenge: Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams

a white hand with dovegray nail polish holds a green book with a floral patterned image and a sleeping person on it in front of green foliage and two deep purple flowers: Janet Wong's NIGHT GARDEN: POEMS FROM THE WORLD OF DREAMS, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Night Garden

We’re in the midst of another storm, here, and in the midst of a storm of a week, and so I picked, today, a warm, magical little book of poetry awash with dreamy illustrations: Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams, a 2000 collaboration between poet Janet Wong and artist Julie Paschkis. (They also worked together in Knock On Wood, which I read for this year’s Sealey Challenge as well.)

Night Garden is written for kids—the publisher puts it at 7-10 year olds, according to the cover flap—but, like A Suitcase of Seaweed and Knock on Wood and Behind the Wheel, it can be enjoyed by anyone. Wong fully and beautifully explores the magic and strangeness and wonder of dreams, that place where anything can happen (and sometimes does). Elementary school kids will appreciate the simplicity, but I think anyone can enjoy the wonder.

Paschkis’ illustrations for Knock on Wood feel mythic to me. Here, they are, quite simply, dream-like, tender fantasies played out on a picture book stage. They suit Wong’s dream-like words, as reality and fantasy blur in the text as they blur in our dream worlds—those “night gardens” where “dreams grow wild / like dandelion weeds, / feathery heads / alive / with seeds—” which, in turn, grow to become the dreams that visit us, “and they send down roots, / and they sprout / and bloom— // in the night garden.”

The poems are, according to the cover flap, based upon dreams that either Wong or her friends have had. They’re certainly recognizable, a lot of them. Some of them made me catch my breath as I read. “The Ones They Loved The Most,” which is definitely in a song in Game of Thrones, is about the spirits of the dead returning to visit loved ones in their sleep. Who hasn’t dreamed of those they have loved and lost? (I mean, some of us might have even danced high in the halls of the kings who were gone, but not me.) I can’t remember if I pulled at the air when I woke, but I’ll always remember dreaming my cat when I was 12.

Dreams aren’t all joy, and not all dreams are met with the same emotions by every dreamer, and Wong acknowledges the slippery sides of dreams as well as the more beautiful ones. “Old Friend” carries an edge of sadness, while “Flying” talks of something that is a joy to some dreamers, while it seems more nightmareish to others. And, of course, nightmares get their due in “Nightmare,” which ends: “a news-at-seven true nightmare.” We’ve all had ample sources for that, of late.

Night Garden is a beautiful book of poetry, Wong’s magical text and Paschkis’ illustrations the perfect compliment to each other. It’s written for elementary age kids, but you need not limit yourself to sharing it with your local eight year old, for it’s a beautiful work, tender and magical, the lines between reality and fantasy blurring as they do in our dreams.