Whenever he closed his eyes as an infant, Wengenn Liao was quickly whisked away to a magical world where he could become a star catcher, a trapeze artist, a Picasso in training or the King of Spades.
Now that Wengenn is 5, naptime is over, but the adventures are still going, thanks to his mother, freelance artist and photographer Sioin “Queenie” Liao of Tracy, California.
Liao, 38, who became an Internet sensation with her creative photos showing Wengenn posed as a Matryoska doll, mouse, scarecrow and jester while sleeping, now takes snapshots of her youngest son riding dragons, lighting a giant birthday cake or dueling with his brothers, Wenlun, 8, and Wentinn, 13. She then puts the photos on her website, Wengen in Wonderland, and Facebook page, to the delight of fans worldwide.
Now that her “Wengenn in Wonderland” album is filled with more than 100 pictures, “I plan to keep going for as long as he’s willing,” Liao tells PEOPLE. She took her first photo of Wengenn, the youngest of her three sons, in 2010, when he was three months old, after sketching and setting up a scene of him holding balloons and floating through clouds, several days before.
“Now that’s he’s getting older, he’d rather pose as a superhero,” says Liao, “so it takes a little more coaxing. He’s growing so fast that in a year or two, I think I’ll be losing my model. Because my other kids are older, they’re not interested in taking his place.”
Born in China, where she devoured fairy tales as a child and dreamed of illustrating children’s books, Liao immigrated to the United States 15 years ago with her husband, Senben Liao, a physicist.
“She’s always been creative – when I saw her set up her first naptime scene for Wengenn, I was fascinated and amazed,” Senben, 46, tells PEOPLE. “One day, she went into my library and brought out a bunch of physics and math books, then arranged them so it appeared that Wengenn was standing on top of them. That photo is probably my favorite.”
Drawing inspiration from favorite childhood stories and her favorite photographer, Anne Geddes, Liao used to set her scenes up every morning, several hours before her son’s nap at noon.
“I’ve always preferred to just use things from around the house – there’s no reason to go to a lot of expense,” she says. “I was lucky in that Wengenn was a very good sleeper. He only woke up while I was working a couple of times.”
Liao’s favorite photo shows her son climbing a ladder to pluck a star from the sky – “a symbol of my dream for him, to realize all his goals,” she says. “It’s the same dream I have for my other boys as well. Someday, I know I’ll look back and be so glad I have these memories.”
Liao, who published a Chinese version of her work, Sleeping Baby, in 2012, now hopes to put together a book of her work in the United States.
“My message to all parents is to take a lot of pictures and take them often,” she tells PEOPLE. “Because then when your children leave home one day, you can sit down and open your scrapbooks and remember. And that will be a most wonderful thing.”