THE DARK EMPEROR & OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin)
To all of you who crawl and creep,
Who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
Who wake at dusk and throw off sleep;
Welcome to the night.
To you who make the forest sing,
Who dip and dodge on silent wing,
Who flutter, hover, clasp and cling:
Welcome to the night!...
Welcome, indeed, to page after page of the most striking hand-painted relief prints since the work of Christopher Wormell, decorated by pristine poetry (sigh to the ardency of the “Love Poem of the Primrose Moth,” mind the “Night Spider’s Advice” [ Do your work, then / sit back and see / what falls into your lap. / Eat your triumphs, / eat your mistakes…”] and amble along in jocular step with “I Am a Baby Porcupette”). From the loamy mushroom rot and curl of a forest underfoot to the swirl and swipe of bat’s wings, croak of toads and crawl of efts, the book parlays back and forth between mysterious midnight spell a scientific explanation. While the somewhat bright azure background color conveys a mood that is not always shadowy enough for the subject, the full moon traverses the sky on every page and peeks out from between tree trunks, boughs and webs to remind us, this is night. These poems are the right size for a child’s imagination, with succinct and elegant scientific explanations in the right-side columns anda nifty glossary to help young readers tackle words like “stridulation,” “spinnerets” and “wane." Even after the closing of the book, the content spreads in the spirit like the lightening sky of day. A small epic to mood and beauty. (7 and up)
Also of interest:
SHADOW by Suzy Lee (Chronicle) Well, well, well, here’s one little girl who is NOT afraid of the dark. Turning on a naked lightbulb in a storage area, the ladder, vacuum, hose and various whatnots are transformed into wordless wonderland scenes that pull the character and the reader into a drama that grows more exciting with every turned page. Starting with Rorschach-like illustrations, reality rests on one side and a parallel, playful tropical/folkloric hybrid universe on the other, unified by the seam of the book. The imaginative world soon consumes both sides of the page as the girl defeats the small but nefarious wolf to a point of enough contrition that he is invited into a fantasy shindig. Dreams must be deferred when mother’s call of “Dinner’s ready!” cuts through the action like a scissors, perhaps a loose reference to the reassuring spell-breaking of Max’s mother’s soup in Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. The room is left in disarray and darkness, but does that mean the party is really over? Like the little girl in the story, the artist does everything possible with what she’s got: her limited palette of black and a spreading cloud of yellow, her simple stencils, her pencil, the very space on the page used with new energy and inventiveness. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of Marie Hall Ets’ vintage IN THE FOREST, but its fresh mastery of the form makes it a must-have for picture book lovers of all ages and if the illustrator were not residing in Singapore, this would be a Caldecott contender, beyond the shadow of a doubt. (4 and up)
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