Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sight In The Night

Do you have a bat story?  I have a bat story.  In fact most people either have a personal bat story or know one by way of a family member or friend.

As if it were yesterday instead of thirty years ago, I can still smell the chocolate chip cookies baking early on a Sunday morning.  Puttering in the kitchen I was startled out of my musings by a small brown form swooping down from the loft through the air over my head.  I must have yelped or babbled out loud because the next thing I can remember seeing is my husband running about with a fishing net.  Lucky for all of us but particularly for the bat, he found his way through our front door.

I've always enjoyed the company of bats as I sit outside on a summer's evening or as I'm taking a last stroll through the woods at dusk with Xena.  These valued creatures of the night navigate with extraordinary skill, dipping, diving and dining.  The creation of Nightsong (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) by author Ari Berk with illustrations by Loren Long follows a young bat on his first solo night flight.

The sun had set, and the shadows clinging
to the walls of the cave began to wake and

A mother speaks to her child, Chiro, of this night being like no other.  On this night he will fly from the cave alone as she waits behind for his return.  Naturally he's not too sure about going out in the dark by himself.  How will he see?

Her advice to him is to use his good sense prompting another question from young Chiro.  He has no idea what sense is.  Her reply to him is to give voice to the dark, waiting for the night to answer in return, as he flies to the pond where they usually find the best food.

Released from her embrace, the young bat tries to fly through the blackness but what he does see is frightening.  Remembering his mother's whispered words, he sings.  Soon melodies of all shapes and sizes are coming from the dark, back to him.

Through the tree-filled woods, soaring past a flock of geese, and beyond electrical power lines he makes his way toward the familiar destination.  Full, he ponders his next choice; home or beyond.  Is his song sure enough to explore?  The power of self assurance and the joy of discovery prevail.

From the very first sentence I knew this book was going to be exceptional.  I knew this author would be looking at the world with new eyes, shaping what he sees with word descriptions akin to poetry.  Ari Berk's technique in this story has a silence about it; a soft hush in the conversations between the bat mother and her child, the rustle of wings through night air, in the song no human ear can hear.  His words guide readers through the story as good sense guides Chiro through his adventure. Here are a couple of sentences.

In the sky behind him flowed a river of whispers, fading away.

What lay beyond his mother's words?

When I first saw Loren Long's new version of The Little Engine That Could (Philomel, 2005) I'm sure my mouth formed a big "O".  His books, Otis (Philomel, 2009) and the companion volume, Otis and the Tornado (Philomel, 2011)(reviewed here), are personal favorites.  For this title his artwork rendered in acrylic and graphite is stunning.

Depicting the night with penciled lines gives it a texture, as it might appear to eyes not made for seeing in the dark.  Using a glowing, misty moon as the "o" in Nightsong and as the shape for the publication data is the type of attention to detail which sets a book apart.  Having the shades of the white text change on the pages as if a moon is shining on certain sections is brilliant.

Spanning across two pages to the edges all the illustrations provide the perfect backdrop for the soft browns of Chiro and his mother.  As he sings into the night his song is portrayed as a beam of light shining before him.  Careful readers will see other creatures etched into the darkness while those sending a song back to the bat will be in color.  Whether they are panoramic views or close-ups of Chiro, these illustrations, as in Long's other books, are worthy of framing; true pieces of art.

Ari Berk's words illuminated by the illustrations of Loren Long in Nightsong bring to readers a bat's eye view of the night; how they are able to move with such ease using their unique gift of sense.  This title is one of those books where a single reading will not suffice plus I keep reaching out to touch the pages.  Nighttime has never looked so good.

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