Dark Emperor: Nina’s Take
Reproduced with permission. Please read aloud!:
I Am a baby PorcupetteI am a baby porcupette. My paws are small; my nose is wet. And as I nurse against my mom, we mew and coo a soft duet. I am a baby porcupette. I cannot climb up branches yet. While Mom sleeps in the trees, I curl beneath a log till sun has set. I am a baby porcupette. I nibble in the nighttime wet: a sprig of leaves, a tuft of grass, in hidden spots I won’t forget. I am a baby porcupette. My fur is soft; my eyes are jet. But I can deal with any threat: I raise my quills and pirouette.
Jonathan and I each picked our favorite poem to reproduce here, and it is complete coincidence that mine actually follows his in order, and also gives an example of a totally different type of Sidman’s artistry. It highlights her skill with word choice and sound within a seemingly simple but constricting form. Do you feel constricted when you read this poem aloud? No, you feel like you’re murmuring a yummy lullaby to your mommy. On the surface, the content of language also seems simple…a lullaby. But as in “Night-Spider’s Advice,” and, in fact, every poem in this volume, each phrase is actually informative, and reading the sidebar lets the reader enjoy the text on multiple levels. Even “mew and coo a soft duet” is based in porcupine behavior: “the two ‘sing’ to each other while the porcupette nurses.” And the language in the sidebar is itself musical: “As the mother forages, she leads her baby to delicacies such as raspberry leaves or tender twigs.” This, of course, to further inform the reader regarding the next stanza (“I nibble in the nighttime wet”). Notice how the sidebar flows, narratively, along with the poem?
All of this together exemplifies Sidman’s clarity of audience. Through voice and interpretation, she captures a young audience (and a wide one, say ages 5-10?) in multiple ways, at every turn. “I Am a Baby Porcupette,” is first and foremost *cute*–in the best sense of that word, in a way that children respond to strongly. There is music in this poem, and loads of information. Do any of out other seven shortlisted authors demonstrate such a keen sense of audience?
There is artistry like this on every page. A few more of my favorite examples:
In “Welcome to the Night” p.6: “come touch rough bark and leathered leaves”–read this one aloud too. Rough and leathery, isn’t it? This sort of thing happens throughout…another favorite example at the end of “Cricket Speaks” on p.20. Read aloud from “and sing, / sing,….” to the end, and then assure your coworkers there are no crickets in the room.
The beginning of “Snail at Moonrise” p.8: “Each night, Snail / unhooks himself from earth,” [Yep, read it aloud]. Notice the first line is entirely comprised of three stressed syllables (unusal, makes you focus, and go slow), and the second is made of three iambs (unstressed-stressed syllable pair), which has the effect of “unhooking”?
“Love Poem of the Primrose Moth” p.10. She doesn’t bother to tell us this, because it’s really not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, but this is, loosely, a ghazal, and the very complex form is perfectly tuned to a young audience here.
And as a final note to this post, please read in its entirety “Oak after Dark” on p.14, which was my second choice for one to discuss fully here. Then open your copy of the Newbery Medal winning title A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard, and read “Blake’s Wonderful Car Delivers Us Wonderfully Well.” These are extremely different poems, but the same form, and I think the comparison highlights how Sidman’s work is definetely Newbery caliber.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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