Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

Illustration facing Welcome to the Night, pg 7

Illustration facing Welcome to the Night, pg 7

Apologies in advance for the quality of some of these pictures! They really don't do the book justice.

This first image is better than most, because I found it elsewhere online—most of the others are sad pictures from my phone. Anyway. I love the sunset lighting in this one. 

But even more than that, I love that the first time I looked at it, I didn't notice the deer right away. Which is exactly how spotting a deer usually happens—you can be staring right at one for ages and not even notice. And that's exactly what reading this book is like—it's full of Easter eggs in the illustrations and the text both, it's a book that you can read and re-read and stumble upon a new surprise every time.

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night is a collection of twelve poems that are accompanied by full page relief printed illustrations. The layout looks like this, with the poems on the left and the large image on the right: 

Example of layout, pg16-17

Example of layout, pg16-17

Along the right hand side, next to the larger illustration, is a short nonfiction piece about the subject of the poem. Sidman includes entirely fascinating tidbits—on snails, for instance, she says They do not chew, but rather scrape plant material into their mouths with a tongue that is covered by rows of tiny teeth—that are high-interest on their own, but in conjunction with the poems, even more so. 

From poem to poem, Sidman changes up form and rhyme scheme and rhythm and pace, from quiet and calm:

Come feel the cool and shadowed breeze,
come smell your way among the trees,
come touch rough bark and leathered leaves:
Welcome to the night. (6)

to trundley-bouncy:

I am a baby porcupette.
I nibble in the nighttime wet:
a sprig of leaves, a tuft of grass,
in hidden spots I won't forget. (18)

And yes, she does include the requisite concrete poem:

Dark Emperor, pg12

Dark Emperor, pg12

(That's not just something I'm imagining, right? I feel like almost every collection of children's poetry I've ever read includes at LEAST one concrete poem. Which is totally understandable, because they're such a great example of poetry being FUN.)

Throughout, the imagery and movement and atmosphere is just stellar:

This illustration from pg20 has Josh wanting to get a tattoo of a cricket, though he's leaning towards getting one based on Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations from Cricket Magazine.

This illustration from pg20 has Josh wanting to get a tattoo of a cricket, though he's leaning towards getting one based on Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations from Cricket Magazine.

From vast pale networks
underground
they shoulder up
without a sound;
they spread their damp
umbrella tops
and loose their spores
with silent pops.
Unbuttoning the forest floor,
the mushrooms come,
the mushrooms come. (22)

Who knew that it was possible to make reading about mushrooms feel so much like dancing? Because that's what The Mushrooms Come feels like—a waltz. 

Bonus illustration fun! Spotting the cameos by the subjects of other poems, like the owl in the background of the porcupine picture. And! Looking for the small orange eft—a juvenile newt—that shows up somewhere in each spread. Can you spot him here (despite the terrible quality of the photo)?

Porcupine illustration from Dark Emperor, pg 19.

Porcupine illustration from Dark Emperor, pg 19.

If you're not seeing him, look in the bottom right corner: 

Close-up of the porcupine illustration on pg 19.

Close-up of the porcupine illustration on pg 19.

Gorgeous, a joy to read aloud, and maybe even a reassurance that nighttime can be celebrated rather than feared.

Next up, maybe: 

Definitely, definitely more by Joyce Sidman. It looks like Song of the Water Boatman and Butterfly Eyes have the same format, but the connecting thread is habitat, rather than behavior. I might also poke around for collections of children's poetry in general—I've read a million zillion verse novels, but not very many straight-up collections of poetry. Recommendations are welcome!

Lists & so on:

Award: Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, 2011 Picture Book Honor
Award: Cybils Award, 2010 Poetry Finalist
Award: Eureka! Nonfiction Children's Book Award, 2011 Silver Honor
Award: Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, 2011 Honor
Award: Newbery Award, 2011 Honor

Book List: ALA Notables, 2011 All Ages
Book List: Booklist Editor's Choice, 2010 Middle Readers Nonfiction
Book List: NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book, 2011

Starred review: Booklist
Starred review: Horn Book
Starred review: Publishers Weekly

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba, by Margarita Engle

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba, by Margarita Engle

Added to my TBR: September 30

Added to my TBR: September 30