Sky Castle

by Sandra Hanken

illustrated by Jody Bergsma

Published by Illumination Arts

32 pages, 1998

Buy it online




Pleasant Dreams of Smiling Frogs

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Books for children come in a variety of flavors. There are books whose chunky drawings and silly rhymes are enough to delight the most jaded child. There are books whose pages pop-up into a truly interactive childish experience. There are tomes for tots that tell stories they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. As wonderful as any of these can be when well done, my favorite category has always been books to hinge childish dreams on. And -- in some ways -- the best of these last incorporate elements of all of many of the former. Sky Castle, Illumination Arts' latest offering, is just such a book.


It should be mentioned that Bellevue, Washington-based Illumination Arts sports a list filled with positive books. Without exception, their books for both adults and children fairly burst with all of the positive-energy-care-for-the-child-inside feeling that can be quite odious if done badly. This isn't the case here. While Sky Castle's storyline is just the barest of pretexts for Jody Bergsma's fanciful illustrations, the book has been targeted just right to make it work. This is the sort of book that very small children seem most to enjoy before bed. As well, the story is uncomplicated and easy enough to read aloud that it's also a good choice for busy, overworked and tired parents who still want to spend that bonding time before bedtime on a busy weeknight.

An example from the book's opening two-page spread:

Let's build a great castle high up in the sky.
We'll just close our eyes and let ourselves fly
To a bright new world of our own creation,
Full of hopes and dreams and imagination.

Bergsma has illustrated this stanza with a charming and fanciful theme: three smiling cherubs of elfin origin have covered their eyes in obvious anticipation of the dreams to come. Included in the scene are several wonderful butterflies, a teddy bear, a smiling frog and a couple of truly great and completely recognizable chickadees. The illustration is watercolor soft, but also boasts Bergsma's characteristic depth and richness. It's an inviting spread, one that a child could spend a long time looking at. More importantly, it is one that invites dreams: and only the pleasant kind.

Author Sandra Hanken has said that, for many years she aspired to write, "a book that would encourage children's beliefs in themselves and their abilities." The book that has resulted from this aspiration is essentially a poem about positives:

Let's fill up our castle with all of life's treasure,
Like warm hugs and smiles and love beyond measure.
Light hearts and laughter will start each new day,
To brighten our path and show us the way.

And while some of these sentiments might make the average adult's teeth ache, it's certainly happy stuff with which to send a child to sleep. To dream, perchance, of smiling frogs. There are worse things. | November 1998


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.