While You Were Sleeping is a tender rhyming bedtime tale written and illustrated by Briana Corr Scott. Told in the second person, the book captures the simultaneous awe and sleepless toil of caring for a child throughout many of life’s sweet and unsung moments. Inspiring as much sympathy for its parent speakers as for its cuddly child subjects, the picture book recounts the myriad activities carried out by dedicated parents: wearing out brooms from cleaning, folding laundry, “eating crusts off of sandwiches,” finishing degrees, and waking “with the dawn” to head to work all the while “long[ing] to be home.” Meanwhile, the reader is left to imagine what dreams are dancing in the heads of the little sleepers as their worlds are lovingly formed around them.
One unique aspect of Scott’s book is that not only do we witness a single child grow throughout the story, but we also cycle through a variety of characters and caregivers, such as doting aunties, grandparents, and diverse families of all hues and expressions. The story begins in a single house just as a nursery is set up, and then zooms out into the wider neighbourhood, dropping into other homes also busy welcoming new life.
Just when the reader might feel vicariously exhausted at all the work carried out in near-breathless succession, there’s an interlude of rest: characters leave dishes to stargaze, relax on a swing, or just do nothing.
Accompanying Scott’s affectionate words are her colourful, cozy oil illustrations filled with quaint details, such as animal friends and neglected glowing computer screens. Her style and rich line work provide plenty of visual interest and a sense that these families’ lives extend beyond the book’s pages.
The inevitable disruption of the book’s titular refrain is emotionally satisfying. We return to where we started, only changed, feeling a bittersweet dose of nostalgia. Homemaking is a cycle that repeats itself in innumerable neighbourhoods all over, under our singular sky and by the last page, we are ready to watch the entire sequence play out all over again.