Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Readers Guide for DARK EMPEROR

I’m teaching my graduate course in poetry for children this semester and we have all kinds of projects percolating that I hope to share soon-- including readers’ guides for many different poetry books. Toward that end, I created a mini-example readers’ guide for my students for Joyce Sidman’s Dark Emperor, a Newbery honor book this year. Let me first say that Joyce has several excellent resources for this book available on her own web site. I purposely created my guide before checking hers and there’s a wee bit of overlap, but together, we offer multiple ways to approach this wonderful book.

At Joyce’s web site, you’ll find:
  • A readers guide
  • Audiofile of her reading select poems
  • Links to interviews with Joyce
  • And more…

READERS GUIDE: Dark Emperor by Joyce Sidman

By Sylvia Vardell

Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Houghton Mifflin. Recommended age levels 7-12

1. Summary of book
This collection of poems about the forest at night—owls, moths, porcupines-- is the last in the trio of “ecosystem poetry books” that began with Song of the Water Boatman (pond) and continued with Butterfly Eyes (meadow). It also offers a parallel layout with beautiful linoleum prints in a double-page spread for each of 12 poems, alongside an accompanying prose paragraph. This marriage of lyrical poetry, science-focused topics, and beautifully executed art has become a Sidman (and collaborating illustrator) trademark.

2. Review excerpts/awards
*Newbery Honor book

*Booklist Editors’ Choice
*Booklist starred review; “this picture book combines lyrical poetry and compelling art with science concepts”
*School Library Journal; “it invites lingering enjoyment for nature and poetry fans”
*Horn Book Fanfare
*Bulletin Blue Ribbon
*Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year
*NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book
*ALA Notable Book
*Junior Library Guild Selection
*Cybils Poetry Award finalist
*Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award honor book

3. Questions to ask before reading
Invite the children to discuss the following:
*What is an “emperor”? Look at the book’s cover and speculate about the book’s content and the meaning of the word “emperor.”
*Imagine what happens outside your home when you sleep at night. What animals might be active? What noises might be heard?
*Which is easier to write—prose or poetry? Why? This book has both. Why do you think a poetry book might include prose paragraphs, too?

4. Suggestions for reading poems aloud
*“Welcome to the Night”-- invite the whole group or class to read each stanza’s end line (“Welcome to the night”) as a repeated refrain; try this same strategy with “I Am a Baby Porcupette” and with “The Mushrooms Come” (for the repeated title line in each poem)
*“Oak After Dark”-- invite 7 volunteers to read one couplet each; try changing the order of the couplets in repeated readings just for fun
*”Ballad of the Wandering Eft”—Divide the class or whole group into 4 small groups, one to read each of the 4 poem stanzas. Then invite the whole (large) group to sing the repeated stanza in italics as a song to the tune of “On Top of Old Smoky.”

5. Follow up activities (writing, art, science, etc.)
*Art block prints
The illustrator, Rick Allen, created woodblock prints for the pictures in this book. Collaborate with an art teacher or local artist to learn about printmaking; experiment with simple potato prints to create print pictures for a favorite poem.

*Poem writing
Joyce Sidman writes poetry in many different forms. In this book, she includes an “ubi sunt” (“Moon’s Lament”), a medieval poem that “laments the loss of heroic, beautiful things.” Invite the children to work in pairs to try creating their own lamenting ubi sunt poem.

*Science observations
Children can work in pairs to create nature poems and prose paragraphs about creatures in their immediate environment based on observing them for a set period of time. Combine them to create a collaborative book.

6. Related web sites/blogs
*Joyce Sidman’s web site
[Look here for a readers guide that she has created as well as a digital trailer for this book.]

*Nocturnal animals web site
[Look here for factual information and photo-images of animals that are most active at night.]

*The Miss Rumphius Effect
[Look here for science plus poetry connections and ideas for teaching.]

7. Related books (poetry, nonfiction, fiction)
*Sidman Ecosystem Poetry Trilogy:
Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. By Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Ill. by Beth Krommes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

*Other collections of nature poetry organized around an ecosystem theme:
Singer, Marilyn. 1989. Turtle in July. New York: Macmillan.
Singer, Marilyn. 2003. Fireflies at Midnight. New York: Atheneum.
Yolen, Jane, comp. 1997. Once Upon Ice and Other Frozen Poems. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Yolen, Jane. 1998. Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

*Nonfiction books about nocturnal animals:
Cooper, Wade. 2008. Night Creatures. Cartwheel.
Fraser, Mary Ann. 1999. Where Are the Night Animals? HarperCollins.
George, Jean Craighead. 1999. Morning, Noon, and Night. HarperCollins.
Weber, Belinda. 2006. The Best Book of Nighttime Animals. Kingfisher.

Meanwhile, stay tuned and I hope to share more information about other student-made poetry resources as National Poetry Month (April) nears.

Image credit: Houghton Mifflin

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.


Jane Heitman Healy said...

Thank you so much for making this great book even more usable. This book is the perfect marriage of poetry, art, and facts!

Joyce Sidman said...

Wow, Sylvia--I love all your ideas! I am going to link this to my website. Thanks so much for doing this wonderful work.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Hi, Jane and Joyce,
Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. I know there is a bit of overlap with your guide, Joyce, but I think the more, the better, when it comes to promoting poetry, right?!

Joyce Sidman said...