Where the Wild Things Are leaps to mind, of course, but the most gifted of our modern illustrators are also doing great things with the concept, from the stripped-down simplicity of Antonia Portis's Not a Stick to the fabulous controlled chaos of Suzy Lee's Shadow.
British illustrator Owen Davey's Night Knight, like Sendak's classic, leads off with reality but soon (in fact, sooner, in this case) lets imagination take over. A boy in pajamas with a colander on his head informs us that his nightly bedtime ritual is "a great adventure"—and then, on the next page, transforms into a boy knight, complete with chain mail and helmet. The boy is right: His trip down the hallway on a white horse takes him past an inconspicuous telephone table and umbrella stand and through a leafy forest; his bath explodes with colorful fish and crabs (and a giant bath plug); his "climb into bed" involves a tall tower and a ladder.
The author cleverly slips an element or two of the boy's reality--the mundane hallway furniture, the bath plug, the dog collar on the boy's pet three-headed dragon to whom he says good night—into each step of the process. But to concentrate too much on that would be to make too little of the book's most truly wondrous aspect: Davey's resplendent, vivacious illustrations of the imaginary stuff. This is an illustrator whose panels will make adults gasp. They'll also keep young children coming back to Night Knight night after, well, night.
[Cover image courtesy of Candlewick Press]