Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen
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:
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)
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:
(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:
From vast pale networks
they shoulder up
without a sound;
they spread their damp
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)?
If you're not seeing him, look in the bottom right corner:
Gorgeous, a joy to read aloud, and maybe even a reassurance that nighttime can be celebrated rather than feared.