Monday, September 19, 2011

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night

by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Rick Allen
Boston [Mass.] : Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010.

The look of this Newbery-Honor winning book is deceptively simple. It is the size of a picture book. Instead of a linear story, however, the text is made up of poems tracing the course of night from dusk to dawn by focusing on varying aspects such as nocturnal animals, trees, and the moon. Each poem is on the left-hand side of the page, with a small illustration; a larger illustration fills most of the opposite page. On the far right of the illustration, in smaller font that could easily be ignored when reading to a younger or restless audience, is a short paragraph filled with fascinating tidbits about the subject of the poem.

I confess I was so focused on the text - poetry and nonfiction - that I glossed over the illustrations at first. Then, I read about the process on the title page, which made me take a second look. The method used is relief printing, a process in which a drawing is transferred to wood which is then carved, covered in ink, and printed onto paper. In order to create colorful prints as are in this book, this process of carving, inking, and printing must be done multiple times in multiple colors - and aligned perfectly. Think that sounds like a lot of work? Read on: "The prints for Dark Emperor were each printed from at least three blocks (and in some instances as many as six) and then hand-colored with strongly pigmented watercolor called gouache." Wow. And I had thought of them as fairly simple! I had to page through again, this time in awe of the amount of work it took to create each illustration. This is a truly lovingly crafted book of poetry, nonfiction, and illustration.

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