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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dark Emperor, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen. Houghton, Thomas Allen, 2010. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Night Spider's Advice

Build a frame
and stick to it,
I always say.
Life's a circle.
Just keep going around.
Do your work, then
sit back and see
what falls in your lap.

Eat your triumphs,
eat your mistakes:
that way your belly
will always be full.
Use what you have.
Rest when you need to.
Dawn will come soon enough.
Someone has to remake
the world each night.
It might as well be you."

Is it possible that there is someone who would not find the language, the placement of the words, and the advice given admirable? I doubt it! Joyce Sidman is a master poet, whose work is admired by many. That admiration and praise for her continued wondrous work is well deserved. As she did in previous books about habitat, Song of the Water Boatman (pond), Houghton Mifflin, 2005 and Butterfly Eyes (meadow), Houghton Mifflin, 2006, she ventures deep into the place described to finds its inhabitants. Of the dark, she says:

"I used to be just the teensiest bit afraid of the dark.  I loved the concept of the nighttime, its mystery and dark beauty, but the reality was a different story. For us humans—diurnal, sight-oriented creatures that we are—the darkness is alien and forbidding, especially in the woods (which already have dark, mythic undertones). But there are all sorts of creatures that prefer the dark, that thrive in the dark. Why? And how? This book is my exploration of those questions.  And you know what?  Now that I know so much about these fascinating night creatures, I'm not as afraid of the dark anymore!"

There is so much here to love, and I loved it all. I want to just keep sharing her beautiful, descriptive words and poetic forms with you. There are twelve poems about all things that might go 'bump' in the night, from snails and moths, to owls and crickets. She also includes the mighty oak, mushrooms and the moon...all integral parts of the ecosystem that claims the dark as its own. Each spread includes the poem, the detailed and often humorous accompanying art and a paragraph of supplemental information about the described creature of the night.

Rick Allen invites us in with a double page spread at dusk, showing the shadows at play and the owl on the wing. He welcomes us with fading light, and a close look at some of the creatures who find refuge under cover of darkness. In each gloriously detailed relief print, he pulls us deeper into the night and offers a clear look at what is happening there. (I love the fact that his artistic process is described for the reader, with enough detail to understand how he came to make such amazing accompanying artwork...and wish that more publishers would include this useful information). As the book ends, we watch the light return with the sun while we listen to the moon lament its return. A glossary provides scientific description to explain any new and unfamiliar text.

"Where has it all gone -
my glory,
my radiance -
not that day has come?

Alas. Another eternity of sunbeams to wait."

I remain an ardent fan!

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