It seems, perhaps due to the influence of the Great Lakes, there are more cloudy nights in Michigan than those graced by the glow of moon and stars. As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, those last walks of the day with your dog can be challenging. No matter how familiar the path, when darkness descends everything changes.
Even with your companion's acute senses at work, it is more comforting once you've clicked the switch on your flashlight. As you move it around to your left and right and then back to the front, the well-known is illuminated. In Flashlight Night (Boyd Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, September 19, 2017) written by Matt Forrest Esenwine with illustrations by Fred Koehler three children discover the opposite to be true.
FLASHLIGHT . . .
. . . opens up the night.
In the gleam the ordinary shifts to glimpses of rare and exciting places grown in one's imagination. A row of posts along a fence sends out an invitation to follow a trail leading to parts unknown. A hose streaming water becomes a raging river fed by towering waterfalls. A cat roars with the ferocity of the tiger it becomes.
The adventurers crawl through a hole into an ancient past. Here among stonework and carvings a door beckons. It opens on a sandy beach with a wild wind, waves, a pirate ship and a treasure to be claimed. As a battle rages, the light reveals legendary danger rising from the sea.
What is lost is reclaimed but past dangers gather. The trio is in trouble. Held in the beam a beloved companion is a fierce defender and champion.
The safety of a sanctuary offers protection but what the flashlight reveals still remains. A request, not to be denied, is made. It is good and right as darkness reclaims the night.
With the first uttered truth, Matt Forrest Esenwine gives the narrator permission to unleash the power of "what-if". Each of the succeeding rhyming couplets discloses the threads our imagination can use to weave a story. A poetic cadence leads us to the source of the nighttime adventures taken in the safety of a beam of light. Here are two couplets.
Finds a vessel, tightly moored,
helps you slyly sneak aboard.
Brightens deck and mizzenmast,
exposes what you're sailing past.
Even in darkness there is rich warmth to the color palette selected by artist Fred Koehler. What is shown on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is immediately captivating for readers. You find yourself asking about the magic held within this flashlight. Or is the magic coming from another source. You also want to know what brings these three children together at night. The texture here and throughout the book asks you to reach out and join in the adventures.
To the left, on the back, set within a canvas like old parchment is a smaller image from the interior of the book. Looking through an arch we see a ship rocking in waves. Two of the children are battling a pirate. Arms of an even greater danger are reaching from the sea. The opening and closing endpapers are a silky, smooth black.
On the title page Fred Koehler begins the visual story with the children making their way to the tree house for a sleepover. On the first page a close-up of the children huddled in the tree house shows the older boy holding the flashlight upward illuminating his face as the first single word appears in the light. You find yourself holding your breath knowing something wonderful is about to take place.
Each of the following page turns displays exquisite double-page pictures, supplying readers with the reality in muted darkness and the imaginary realms within the flashlight beam. Fascinating contrasts request you to pause, marveling at the extensions from the everyday to wild jungles, ancient tombs, and stormy seas. One thing you can't help but notice is the camaraderie between the children. This night is one they will always remember.
One of my many favorite illustrations is (without disclosing too much) when the children are experiencing a particularly harrowing encounter. On the left the danger is looming close to them as a crescent moon hangs in the sky. On the right one of them has become ensnared. She reaches her hand to her friend who is reaching also. The smallest of the group knows exactly what to do. He holds out his teddy bear. (I could hardly wait to turn the page.)
Readers you must share Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine with illustrations by Fred Koehler as often as you can. It showcases how words can kindle the spark of creativity causing it to cast a flame of wonder. As a read aloud it will promote questions and answers. It will prompt listeners to think what other worlds can be portrayed within the light. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.
To learn more about Matt Forrest Esenwine and Fred Koehler and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Matt has another site here. Matt is interviewed at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. At Jama Rattigan's site Jama's Alphabet Soup Matt speaks with her about this book. Matt and Fred chat about the book at the Nerdy Book Club. You must watch this video with Fred Koehler talking with Rocco Staino at KidLit TV. The research into the art for this book is engaging.