"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dark Emperor

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night was written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen. It was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. It won the Newberry Honor for 2011! This text is a wonderful collection of twelve beautiful poems about night time animals for children.

The beginning end paper is a dark, eggplant purple reminiscent of the night. This is followed by a stunning two-page spread of a sunset landscape. Darkness is approaching! The first poem of the collection entitled Welcome to the Night where creatures of all sorts are welcomed into the wonderful world of darkness. The vivid poems that follow include diverse animals such as the snail, spider, and bat. Each poem tells the story of that animal during the night time. The "Dark Emperor" is symbolizing the enormous great-horned owl from the cover; who rules over the night. My favorite poem from the book is Oak After Dark because it reminds me of the giant trees at my childhood home. I used to fall asleep with my bedroom window open, listening to the giant trees. Sidman's use of rhythm and rhyme perfectly encompasses my memories:

"As nighttime rustles at my knee,
I stand in silent gravity
and quietly continue chores
of feeding leaves and sealing pores.
While beetles whisper in my bark,
while warblers roost in branches dark,
I stretch my roots into the hill
and slowly, slowly, drink my fill.
A thousand crickets scream my name,
yet I remain the same, the same.
I do not rest, I do not sleep,
and all my promises I keep:
to stand while all the seasons fly,
to anchor earth,
to touch the sky."

Each creature of the night has two different sections dedicated to them. The first is the detailed poem itself on the left. Then on the right of the second page is factual, in-depth information about the subject. I absolutely love this feature of the book because it not only teaches the reader about the specific aspect of the night but then deepens their understanding and complexity through the poem. Genius!

Following the final poem, there is another gorgeous, two spread landscape that now features the sun rising. The final end paper is a golden yellow which symbolizes the coming of day. All of these poems are suitable for elementary students of all ages. I think children will understand the poems independently but primary children may need the assistance of an adult for some of the multisyllabic and content specific words. The factual descriptions on the right side may also need to be further read and explained to the child depending on their ability. The subject matter of this text is interesting to children because they love animals! The poems evoke a feeling of mystery and excitement in the reader. Additionally, the language in the poems is absolutely beautiful and descriptive.

The illustrations are magnificently detailed and unlike any I have seen! They follow the nighttime theme of darkness and serenity but with pops of color. They are extremely textured by Allen's use of line, perspective, and shading.The illustrations were created by relief printing which is where a drawing is transferred onto wood, the drawing is cut and carved away, and the parts left uncut will be covered with ink and printed on paper. The title page says, "The prints for Dark Emperor were each printed from at least three blocks and then hand colored with a strongly pigmented watercolor called couache." The combination of rich poetry and intricate illustrations makes Dark Emperor must-have for every library!

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