Review: Sleeping With the Light On

Davico and his brother Felipe live with their parents above their family restaurant, La Casita, in Guatemala City. Davico likes to sit in the window of the restaurant, waving at the passers-by. He watches the lobsters in their tank in the kitchen, equally fascinated and scared by the biggest of them all, Genghis Khan. The boys accompany their nanny Consuelo on errands in the city. It’s a good life, despite the not-so-gentle teasing of the restaurant’s waiter and cook. 

However, one day planes drop pamphlets from overhead, and Davico’s peaceful childhood is upended. War has come to Guatemala. He learns to recognize the sound of gunfire, and uses a battery-operated lamp his father gives him for blackouts.

Unger’s straightforward prose and Velez Aguilera’s black and white illustrations present an incomprehensible subject – war – in a simple way. And although the topic is serious and scary, Davico finds solace in the embrace of his family, and we the readers do too. 

But I am happy to have the whole family sleeping together, wrapped in blankets. There’s barely enough room for all of us. I only have to stretch my arms to touch a warm body.

I could get used to sleeping like this. Bullets and blackouts make my life more interesting. I would rather sleep under the table than sleep alone in bed with Gordito.

Although a book for little readers, it contains a lot of big topics: war, racism, immigration, refugees, etc. The subjects are presented calmly, and without a lot of emotion. This is how it was. Children will be enthralled by the portrait of life in Guatemala City, and the restaurant, and interested to learn what happened next. And younger readers, as well as their adults will be grateful for the loving care of Davico’s parents, and everyone will feel wistful for the Guatemala that existed before the paper dropped from the planes, and Davico had to sleep with the light on.

Sleeping With the Light On
Author: David Unger
Illustrator: Carlos Vélez Aguilera
Groundwood Books

Sleeping With the Light On (Support an Independent Bookstore)
Sleeping With the Light On (Hardcover at Amazon)*

More books for this Age Group can be found here.

My thanks to Groundwood Books for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.

Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.

Emma GilletteContributor
Emma has been, variously, a dancer, a singer, a lawyer, a writer, and a teacher. However her best job remains mom. She has a variety of advanced degrees she doesn’t use. She lives with her husband, their three teen-aged children, her nonagenarian father, a dog, and two cats, in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she reads, writes, and plays tennis. Not all at once.

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