Nightlights is a book about possibilities. When a child wields a pencil and a blank sheet of paper, the possibilities abound.

Readers follow Sandy from the inner sanctum of her sketchbook and her dreamscape to the soul-crushing classrooms of her Madeleine-esque Catholic school. One day at recess, while lost among her drawings, she meets Morfie, a slight, purplish-haired pupil. Morfie takes an interest in Sandy’s artwork, but it soon becomes clear to Sandy that Morfie isn’t a student at the school.

If you’re focused on trying to figure out what kind of imaginary species Morfie is, or what internal logic and magical physics she abides by, you’ll miss the magic of the story. Alvarez leaves the genesis and motives of Morfie somewhat open-ended, and that gives readers an opportunity to think about how we want to shoehorn the characters we meet in stories into archetypes the same way the nuns want the children at school to memorize digits of pi.

Alvarez’s artwork contrasts pure white with darker tones to provide some tension between fantasy and reality. The beginning and end of the story are flooded with white, giving us a visual framing device that makes readers wonder whether the entire story is generated from Sandy’s drawings, while the exposition is a combination of full spreads and frameless panels. Both Sandy’s dreamscapes and daily life are depicted sumptuously. In the dreamscapes, we see Sandy float among a reef of round-faced creatures, and in real life, the dapples of the sky and the blades among the grass are drawn and colored with care. This book shows the beauty of the small things, like how a slightly miscolored floor tile at school could be a source of inspiration for a dreamer like Sandy.

Visually inspirational, this book represents a high water mark in comics for young children. While it is probably too conceptual to become a favorite among young readers, it shows off the possibilities of sequential art.

Nightlights
by Lorena Alvarez
ISBN: 9781910620137
Nobrow, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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