October’s Big Picture
written and illus. by Emily Tetri
For restless kids everywhere, bedtime is the beast that cannot be tamed, especially if sleep only means just another night of bad dreams and loneliness while everyone else comfortably snoozes away. No number of glasses of water, comforting stories, and reassuring hugs can make that shadow in the corner go away or those creaking noises sound less creepy.
If only they had a nocturnal pal like Tiger does. She and her monster have got their bedtime routine down pat: Tiger brings her monster dinner, the two play games, Tiger hits the sack, and her monster takes its place at the foot of the bed ready to fight off any nightmares that may try to disrupt Tiger’s sleep, just as it’s been doing since Tiger was a baby. Unfortunately, in the wee hours of one night, a beastly bad dream appears, ruthlessly throwing the monster across the room and leaving Tiger whimpering in the dark. Tiger’s tired and grumpy the next day, but she’s more concerned about her friend, who seems distant and frightened. After several more sleepless nights for Tiger, the monster finally admits its inability to defeat the frightening nightmare, and now Tiger has to take things into her own hands (er, paws) and figure out how to deal with the increasingly powerful dream.
This slim graphic novel hits the sweet spot for early readers, both in structure and theme. Tiger’s a goofy mix of Watterson’s Hobbes and Disney’s Stitch, and her monster is a scribbly, quirky maybe dragon/porcupine, making them a pleasingly humorous and accessibly sympathetic duo. Narrative boxes pair with dialogue bubbles, creating a cohesive, energetic text, and Tetri helpfully maps out the story’s tension with her skillful use of paneling, lending structure and balance to scenes of defined emotion or physical action, while barely containing the chaotic nightmare within diagonal, unwieldy frames or unleashing it altogether in full spreads. Daytime scenes are appropriately filled with light and laughter, with a smiling Tiger set against hues of golds, greens, and teals, while inky blues and blacks darken the pages as the bad dream shows up, providing younger readers with mood cues.
Tiger’s experience is placed squarely in a kid-centered world: adults hover at the fringes, and Mom and Dad indulge what they consider Tiger’s active imagination. Tiger and her monster know what’s really up, though, and they delight in their unsupervised play and roll their eyes at the decidedly unimaginative grownups. Independence has its drawbacks, however, and when the skeletal, horned fiend slinks in, monster and Tiger only have each other to rely on. Tetri handles their struggle to face their frightening dream with tenderness and compassion. Tiger is well aware that the nightmare is just a product of her mind, but, she argues to the monster, it still feels scary. “Yeah, it is. It’s weird how that works,” the monster concedes. Plenty of kids—insomniacs or not—will appreciate this recognition that fear can be an overwhelming feeling, even when you know it’s just a figment of your imagination and even when you’ve tried your hardest to overcome it.
The art gives the title the comfort of a younger picture book, but the story itself deals directly with the emotional growth of growing kids, as they wrestle with the anxieties that come with shifting challenges—in sleeping or otherwise—that must be confronted when growing up. They’ll cheer, then, when Tiger blasts her nemesis into oblivion with a cry of defiance and she and her monster become a kickbutt pair of nightmare-fighting buddies.
Kate Quealy-Gainer, Assistant Editor