Out of a Dark Winter's Night

Image of Out of a Dark Winter's Night
Release Date: 
February 11, 2020
Thames & Hudson
Reviewed by: 

“This is a book to be savored, each page a minor masterpiece in mood.”

Out of a Dark Winter’s Night opens with a dark page, all blues, blacks, greens, and grays. There’s just a sliver of a moon and the warm light in a house that looks like it was drawn by a child’s crayon. The mood of the book is set on this page: it’s mysterious with a hint of sadness and a bright ray of hope. The pages of the book are big, making the color-filled emotions that are expressed even more vivid. This is a book to be savored, each page a minor masterpiece in mood.

There is no real story, not in a conventional sense. Instead, there’s a mystery, and the reader either needs to solve it or be fine with simply experiencing the feelings aroused by the sparse text and rich imagery. A child moves from darkness into the bright light of day, followed by an exuberant page of playing outside with a bright blue sky and crayola rainbow. The child—a boy or girl, it’s not clear and doesn’t matter—is full of joy. “But day has to end,” and the tone shifts again to the dark, now scary as wolves, bears, and tigers peer into the child’s bedroom. “Surely something can be one to put this right?” the next page asks. How, the reader wonders, can night be stopped? And would that be a good thing since we need to sleep? Isn’t there a way to make the night more comfortable, less threatening, rather than trying to vanquish it? The next pages suggest a willingness to work hard, to face difficulties, even as the reader questions whether the quest is worth it.

The end unfolds over several pages, once again giving the reader time to sit with the expressive illustrations. The dark page of “But then . . . when no more can be done” leads to a wordless spread of an elephant bringing a bright light to the child, the yellow glow echoed by the single star in the sky.

The next page adds a crescent moon and several stars as the child rides the elephant and “hope comes to carry you . . .” to the final page, a glorious sun-filled spread that echoes the first page of the book. Only now the landscape is bathed in brilliant daylight with a single word hovering over the house: home. It’s a lovely ending that stretches over three page-turns, a breath-holding long moment.

The word home is so evocative, the art so hopeful, that the ending satisfies, even if the reader is left mystified by the effort to banish night. Night, it turns out, or darkness is meant to be a metaphor for depression, and the book is supposed to help young readers understand depression. It would take a thoughtful parent to guide the child reader to figure that all out. But even without the layer of meaning the flap copy gives the story, the book works as a hopeful story of resilience and friendship. It’s also a powerful lesson in the way art expresses—and echoes—mood.