The students in my class loved the poetry in the Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night. We read several of the poems during our poetry unit this year, and my students begged me to read the rest of them while we waited for dismissal. It was also a "hot ticket" during their independent reading time that week.
Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night is a collection of Joyce Sidman poems. The poems describe the creatures and the activities that occur during the night. Rick Allen's gorgeous art work adds to the richness and mystery of the poems and forest at night.
"Welcome to the Night"
"To all of you who crawl and creep,
who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
who wake at duck and throw off sleep:
Welcome to the night."
There are several reasons that I enjoyed sharing this book with my students; the first is its readability. I read several of the poems during our whole group lesson using the document camera to show the poem and the illustration. The great thing was that all my students were able to read along and add to the discussion because of the word choice and lay out of the poems. Joyce Sidman chose words that are beautiful and within the vocabulary of a normal elementary school student. Students are able to focus on the word meaning allowing them to visualize the beauty of the story. The poem is also laid out in a simple format so that a child coould easily follow the lines. Even my lowest reader was able to locate rhyming words and describing words. My students enjoyed reading the poems because they felt that they were written for them.
Another reason I thought this book was perfect for second graders was that it was about animals and the forest. All things that my students have a high interest and at least a little background knowledge. What I also thought gave this book even more interest was that it was talking about what happens at night in the forest, still a little scary for children. While the poems use simple words to describe the topic on one page, the adjacent page has a fascinating illustration with a factual passage that gives detailed information on the same topic.
“I am a Baby Porcupette”
“I am a baby porcupette.
My paws are small: my nose is wet.
And as I nurse against my mom,
We mew and coo a soft duet.”
etc...... (pg. 18)
"Nocturnal animal babies must
learn the ways of night
from their parents in order to
survive. A baby porcupine—
called a porcupette—spends
the day hidden under a stone or
log while its mother sleeps on
a branch above."
There is even a glossary in the back for the larger science words. All of these things help students understand the poems on their own without adult assistance.
The last thing that I thought helped my students connect with the book were Rick Allen's incredible illustrations. According to a note in the front of the book, he used a relief printing process using multiple blocks of linoleum mounted on wood. Some of the prints used up to six blocks that colored with a heavy water colored called gouache to create the illustrations. The prints use dark colors with heavy lines to help you visualize the lines of the poems. He also uses distance to make small things like a field mouse, look larger than it's predator an owl. It gives the poems a dark foreboding feeling. All of this combined makes the poems more interesting to children.
This is a poetry book that I will be glad to add to my classroom collection. I understand why it won so many awards; Boston Globe--Horn Book Award, Newberry Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. It is a wonderful choice to introduce children to the beauty of poetry.