Wordless Books

I Can’t Sleep

Philippe Dupasquier

This gentle wordless story from Swiss-born artist Philippe Dupasquier covers a single night in the life of one family. During the night, first the father, then the daughter and son, and finally the mother wake up and head downstairs to the kitchen for a snack. In doing so they disturb the cat, who wants to be let outside, and before long the whole family have followed the cat into the garden, where they gaze in fascination at the moon and stars. Then, still in darkness, they all head back to bed – and oversleep the next morning.

I Can’t Sleep spread

This is a slim plot but the book, which uses a comic book format of different-sized panels, has so much more to offer. Not are there plenty of funny and well-observed details of a busy home, from the children’s untidy bedroom to the fridge stuffed with food, but the images also beautifully reflect the wide variety of emotions that most families experience at some point. The facial expressions range from simple weariness and annoyance to wonder, awe and immense love (there are hugs and cuddles in plentiful supply).

The book has a dual address, in that adults are likely to read it in a different way to children. For instance an adult may pick up on the father’s anxiety about his work (he’s an illustrator temporarily stuck for inspiration) and notice the tools of his trade on his cluttered desk, where brushes, pens and pots of ink sit alongside a jumble of books, paper and headphones, as well as a stray mug and a spoon or two. Adults, too, may be aware of the parents concern about time – and time, both in terms of clocks and watches and in the light years separating us from the distant stars, is a central theme. In fact, when by-now-wide-awake family share their magic moonlit moment in the garden, night effectively becomes day, and time is turned upside-down.

I Can’t Sleep spread

The book opens with a wide double-page spread of a midnight-blue night sky, below which nestles a peaceful scene of fields and village rooftops. But almost immediately we are drawn into the interior scenes, in which Dupasquier makes clever use of light and shade – a shaft of moonlight creeps in through the curtains, the soft light from the bedside lamp spills over the bed, and even the light from the fridge casts a muted glow over the kitchen. But once outdoors in the garden, this yellowish hue of artificial light is replaced by the awesome silvery white of a giant moon and an abundance of sparkling stars. The final scene, an echo of the opening spread, shows a different kind of light again, as the fields and rooftops are bathed in the sunshine of bright daylight.

Philippe Dupasquier, who works mainly in England, has created a number of other wordless picturebooks. Check out The Great Escape (1988), a highly detailed, action-packed chase after an escaped prisoner that’s full of fun puzzles to solve.