I had been out after dark before,
but this time was different.
We were going
out just to be out.
And it was just
Dad and me.
At night, the world looks different. The familiar sights and sounds of daytime change as the sun goes down and lights from streetlights and houses illuminate the darkness. In Night Walk, a young child sees this night world for the first time. She can’t sleep; her mom and her baby brother are asleep, and her older sister is hanging out in the top bunk of her bed. The child’s father notices she is still awake and “owl-eyed” and decides to take her on a late-night walk. On the walk, she observes things that she hasn’t before: she sees the world alive at night, the inside of houses, and people eating and socializing. She wonders: Was it always like this when I was asleep in my bed at night? So many people everywhere!
Her dad tells her that he grew up in the country where there were few neighbours and houses. She then realizes that this neighborhood is her world and her home. There is nowhere else she would rather live. With her mom and baby brother in the window, the light shining from her own house is like a beacon: “I am home.”
Ellie Arscott’s illustrations are detailed and charming, and the reader can closely examine the details in the pictures, such as the people on the bus, the stray cat on the street, and the goings-on of families in houses. The illustration of the child sitting on her father’s lap, looking at the stars while on a swing at the park, is a beautiful depiction of a loving parent/child relationship.
O’Leary’s choice to make the ending of Night Walk focus on the feeling of home seems like an unnecessary sentimental turn in the narrative. There is much for children to infer in this warm parent/child alone time and for children to marvel about in the night world without the overt emotionally written ending. Despite the explicitly sentimental ending, Night Walk would be a good choice for parents and caregivers to share with young children aged 3-8, hopefully prompting night walks and seeing their own neighbourhoods anew.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario.