I enjoy incorporating poetry books into my classroom fluency center, but I'll admit that I do not use poetry as often as I would like to. I tend to find thematic poems that align with our current studies, the current season, or student interests, but I do not have a variety of poetry compilations in my class library. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman and published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin is an excellent book of poems that gives students a sneak-peek into the woods at nighttime. Most children are asleep in their beds at night and can only dream about the wilderness, and Dark Emperor allows them to get a glimpse of this other world that might be right outside their windows.
Inviting readers into this Newbery Honor Book is the first poem, "Welcome to the Night." This fun, rhythmic poem sets the tone for the theme of the book and gives readers clues as to what they will be reading about. "The night's a sea of dappled dark," the author writes, "the night's a feast of sound and spark, the night's a wild, enchanted park. Welcome to the night."
As might be expected in a book of poems, Dark Emperor includes a myriad of romantic, beautifully written phrases. In the poem "Love Poem of the Primrose Moth," the moth storyteller explains, "At dawn, I fold my sherbet-colored wings and become a primrose." This juxtaposition between the moth and the flower that she resembles and admires is thought-provoking, and I appreciate how the author describes the moth's wings as "sherbet-colored" as opposed to pink.
While I enjoyed all of the poems in this composition, my very favorite is "Ballad of the Wandering Eft" for its quick rhythm, repetitive chorus, and rich language. The eft explains that in the woods, "wild and windy[...]moss grows like candy." In case you're wondering what an eft is, as I would have were it not for the pictorial clues, each poem includes an adjoined page with non-fiction information about the subject of each page. In the non-fiction page opposite this particular poem, the author writes that an eft is "like other newts and salamanders." I appreciate how the author ties information into this book of poems, making it unique and applicable across the curriculum.
Finally, the illustrations in Dark Emperor are engaging. Each poem includes a large, framed illustration, as well as a few small pictures mingling with the poems themselves. The illustrator, Rick Allen, has employed the use of dark colors to emphasize the words at night. It appears that he has used printmaking to illustrate this book, as is evident with the deep, bold lines composing each picture. This is a unique style of illustration that I have not seen present in many picture books that I have deeply analyzed; it fits the tranquil feel of Dark Emperor, and I would like to see more of this artwork in other picture books.
After reading this compilation from my library, I plan to purchase a copy to store in my classroom library (and occasionally pull poems from for the fluency center). It is the perfect book to share with students before summer vacation, perhaps embedding it with a thematic unit of camping out! If you would like to experience it for yourself, check it out at your local library! You can also view the book trailer at Joyce Sidman's website.