MAY 12:

  • Happy birthday Farley Mowat (Never Cry Wolf), Caroline Feller Bauer (My Mom Travels a Lot), Betsy Lewin (Click, Clack, Moo), Janice Lee Smith (Adam Joshua Capers series), and Jennifer Armstrong (Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World).
  • It’s the birth date of Edward Lear (1812-1888), The Owl and the Pussycat. In honor of Mr. Lear, it’s Limerick Day, celebrating the humorous and witty five-line poem. Read Limericks by Valerie Bodden, Pocketful of Nonsense by James Marshall, and Lots of Limericks by Myra Cohn Livingston, illustrated by Rebecca Perry.
  • Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was born on this day. On a related note, it’s International Nurses Day. Read Heart and Soul: The Story of Florence Nightingale by Gena K. Gorrell.

This week we celebrate the annual observance of Children’s Book Week. In April, an exhibit of the work of Bernard Waber opened at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. About a hundred people attended the opening, including a roster of writers and illustrators who had known and loved Bernie Waber. Meeting Bernie’s children and hearing his publishers and friends give testimonies about their experiences with him, I felt that evening as though Bernie himself was present.

When I arrived at Houghton Mifflin in 1975, the first book I saw in my new job was one of Bernie’s, Goodbye, Funny Dumpy Lumpy,  which Mary Kay Harmon. Bernie’ editor, gave me to read. When I went to talk to her — drawing on all my critical phrases like “verisimilitude” from my Horn Book training — she heard me out and then said. “That is all well and good. But do you think children will like it?”

Well, children have loved our book of the day, Ira Sleeps Over, for more than forty years. Bernie Weber was one of those artists who never forgot what it felt like to be a child, and he delivers a pitch-perfect account of a young boy’s first opportunity to sleep over at his friend Reggie’s house. Both parents support young Ira, the protagonist of the story whose name we only know from the title. However, his older sister taunts Ira because he sleeps with a teddy bear named Tah Tah. She convinces her brother that Reggie will make fun of him if he brings the bear along.

This light soufflé of a story perfectly captures young boys’ feelings and actions. It focuses on a real childhood crisis and solves the problem in a delightful and believable way. One of Bernie Waber’s strengths as an illustrator was his ability to make his books look spontaneous and artless. But he was actually a dedicated perfectionist, working and reworking every page to make sure that things looked just right. He believed that in  picture books, text and art fought over a valuable piece of real estate—space on a book’s page.

To create Ira Sleeps Over, Bernie took pictures of children on bikes around his neighborhood to make sure he had captured the details just right. Then he completely redid a draft of the text that had already been accepted by his publishers; he decided that the story needed to be told in first-person perspective, rather than third-person. I think the resulting book comes as close to perfection as any classic children’s picture book that I know.

This week on May 14, a Literary Landmark will be dedicated at the Yorkville Community School on East Eighty-Eighth Street, honoring the work of Bernie Waber. I can think of no better way to celebrate Children’s Book Week then to read Ira Sleeps Over or Bernie Waber’s other books. His body of work contains brilliant sunlight—and no shadows.


Here’s a page from Ira Sleeps Over:



Originally posted May 12, 2014. Updated for .

Tags: Family, Toys
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Ira Sleeps Over


  1. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I want to live in a house designed and furnished by Bernard Waber. His interiors always look so colorful, comfortable, and classy :)

  2. Anita says:

    Rebecca — what a great idea. Who wouldn’t want to live in a Waber house.

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