Chart-topping book gets kids to sleep in terrifying way

Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin's The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep is the first self- published title to top the Amazon charts.
Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin's The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep is the first self- published title to top the Amazon charts.PHOTO: CARL-JOHAN FORSSÉN EHRLIN/ FACEBOOK

LONDON • I am the parent of a child whose nightly requests for more stories, more songs, a torch, a magnifying glass and the "Well Done!" sticker have never yet been known to run dry; a child who brings up the subject of death as a last resort, knowing it is a hard-faced mother indeed who leaves a four-year-old grappling alone with the spectre of mortality in a darkened room.

In this capacity, I am definitely in the market for juvenile sleep aids. And I'm also a stickler for half- decent bedtime stories, but The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep, which will allegedly send kids to sleep in minutes, is a somewhat perturbing addition to the genre.

The first self-published title to top the Amazon charts, it has knocked heavyweights such as Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman and Paula Hawkins' The Girl On A Train off the podium - perhaps unsurprisingly, since everyone with young children wants them just to Go To Sleep .

Devised by Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, the book deploys carefully researched techniques - frequent yawning by the reader, emboldened phrases and "insert name here" spaces so that the sleep-refusenik is made to identify with Roger, the rabbit insomniac of the title.

But what is it actually like as a story? In a word - sinister. From the outset.

The cover page is terrifying. "I can makE aNyoNe faLL asleep", declares a small signpost, whose erratic capitalisation makes my pulse race, pointing the way to eternal slumber via a terrifying cottage with a roof like a witch's hat.

Much of the text strikes me as sinister too: "'But now, you will fall asleep', said Mommy Rabbit with certainty in her voice."

When she suggests that Roger and "you" should go and see Uncle Yawn, "the world's kindest wizard, who always makes children and rabbits fall asleep with his magic sleeping powder, I sit bolt upright, breathing hard in terror.

Despite things looking up slightly when we encounter the "Heavy- Eyed Owl", who delivers a guided meditation, encouraging listeners to relax and drift off, the wizard does not reassure me in the slightest - and repetition becomes excruciating, rather than relaxing.

"The eyelids are as heavy as stones, heavy, heavy, so heavy," mourns Roger, as he trails down the homeward path. And they are. But with despair, rather than with sleep.

Many of the ideas behind the book are sound. I really like the concept of a story designed to reassure an anxious child that he is loved, good enough, and that his worries (including mortality) can be deferred until the morning.

There is also plenty to be said for accustoming children to relaxing their bodies and succumbing to sleep, rather than fighting it. But bedtime stories are not, to me, about deceiving your child into conking out (and still less so with a text full of unintentional horror- film resonances).

The words to which kids doze off sink into them with invisible permanence and there is a distinct note of Brave New World hypnopaedia about Mommy Rabbit's inexorable drone. For now I, at least, will continue my bedtime pilgrimages up and down the stairs. After all, there is always gin.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Chart-topping book gets kids to sleep in terrifying way'. Print Edition | Subscribe