Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Parent Who Wants to Fall Asleep

Four years ago, the author and father Adam Mansbach gave voice to hitherto unspoken parental despair and rage when he came up with the parody bedtime storybook “Go the Fuck to Sleep.” Illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, the book is a lullaby that has been darkly and hilariously undercut with threat. Addressed by a father to his daughter, it escalates in tone from soothing to pleading to berating. (A sample verse: “The windows are dark in the town, child. / The whales huddle down in the deep. / I’ll read you one very last book if you swear / You’ll go the fuck to sleep.”) It became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller, and was translated into more than a dozen languages. To date, it has sold over 1.5 million copies, and has become as predictable a baby-shower gift as a pack of pastel-colored onesies. Its success is evidence of the force of desperation felt by mothers and fathers when confronted with what seems like a peculiar glitch in human circuitry: that children, though they know by instinct how to suck, how to cry, and how to smile, have no idea how to surrender to slumber.

Now comes another picture book addressed to the kinds of parents that Mansbach spoke for: “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep,” by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, a Swedish life coach and professor of communications. Originally self-published, the book has a subtitle that explains its purpose: “A New Way of Getting Children to Sleep.” It has become an international best-seller, with its aficionados triumphantly tweeting photographs of their sleeping offspring resting alongside the book’s cover. That cover features a pencil-drawn illustration of a rather raggedy looking young rabbit and his mother, standing by a roadway sign. The sign reads “I can make anyone fall asleep,” and points to a mysterious cottage in the distance—the home of Uncle Yawn, who is a fairy-dust bestowing wizard, as any reader resilient enough to stay awake until the end of the book will discover.

Rather than echoing Mansbach’s rueful wretchedness, “The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep” offers parents hope: the idea that encoded in its text is a formula for somnolence. It relates the story of Roger, a rabbit who wants to fall asleep but can’t. It does so in a narrative that is heavily seeded with certain words and phrases to be read aloud with particular emphasis. A typical example: “The rabbit began feeling even more tired when he thought about all the games he would play and how tired that would make him now.” Frequently, the narrator—that is, the parent reading—directly addresses the child who is listening, inserting the child’s name into the narrative, so that there are lines like “Relax your legs, [name]. Roger and you do so, now.” There are also specific injunctions indicating where and when the reader should yawn, presumably to encourage reciprocal yawning in the listener. The book draws on repetition and suggestion to encourage sleepiness, techniques well known to psychologists and hypnotherapists. Forty-five per cent of the more than eight hundred and forty reviewers of the book on Amazon gave it five stars, while just twenty-five per cent gave it a one-star review. Those are more than good enough odds for an exhausted and frustrated parent to give it a shot.

by Rebecca Mead, New Yorker |  Read more:
Image: The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep