Books Picture Books Reading Themes

Waiting on the New Year: Night of the Whippoorwill – Poems Selected by Nancy Larrick and illustrated by David Ray

It’s that time of the year once again – a turning over of the old with the new – an ushering of yet another year. Time for new resolutions – a breaking of old cliches and the hackneyed, a tearing down of the trite and tiresome. As most of us would most likely be keeping a vigil until 12 midnight, I’d like to share some of my favorites from the book The Night of the Whippoorwill with you.

The whippoorwill. I didn’t even know about whippoorwills until I opened this book. I have been raised with the sounds of cars, jeepneys, and traffic – very citified lass. I did not have the privilege of listening to whippoorwills in the evening. It didn’t take me long to find these images that introduced me to the beauty of this bird who gives an odd whistling cry in the woods at night.

Photo courtesy of Kevin T. Karlson - click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

A book of the night. I was immediately enchanted by the introduction written by Nancy Larrick, a distinguished educator from Winchester Virginia. She is a founding member of the International Reading Association and has compiled 22 anthologies of poetry for young readers (source: jacketflap of the book):

The Night of the Whippoorwill is a collection of poems that celebrate the night – old poems from people who sang of the night long before scientists turned their telescopes on the sky, and songs from modern poets caught up in the continuing mystery and enchantment of the night.

I also consider myself a child of the night. While I enjoy mornings and the gentle rays of dawn while everyone else is asleep – I find the midnight clouds and starlit heavens more exquisite. I was enamored by the poets of Lapland who described the North Star as “a nail on which the heavens are hung” as cited by Nancy. The Polynesians also described the stars as “jewelled pillars that hold up the sky” – spectacular, stunning images in your mind’s eye.

While most of the selected poems found in the book did not ‘speak’ to me or move me as much as I thought it would, there were several that caught my eye. There’s one by James Kirkup who described the evening clouds like

a white
     Persian Cat –
It lies among the stars
with eyes almost shut,
lapping the milk from
the moon’s brimming dish

Made me sigh. There is also James Skofield’s Nightdances which made me want to skip and fly out into the night sky – the rhythm of the wind guiding my swaying – my hair flying freely. Night Song by Eve Merriam has also made me want to put my head in the soft clouds as “the dolphins/ Of darkness arise from the deep.” I was also taken by the haiku from the Society Islands describing the Milky Way as a “sail of a great canoe” and J. W. Hackett’s description of the night as a “concert of colors.”

There were also several poems that captured the enduring sense of loss and desolation one can only feel during the night time and the melancholy in the harbor’s eyes as seen in Carl Sandburg’s Lost and Virginia Schonborg’s Song of Ships. There is also Claudia Lewis’ “purple pumpkin” of a night “laced with a silver web.” My absolute favorite, though is Karla Kuskin’s Where Would You Be?

Where would you be on a night like this
With the wind so dark and howling?
Close to the light
Wrapped warm and tight
Or there where the cats are prowling?
Where would you wish you on such a night?
When the twisting trees are tossed?
Safe in a chair
In the lamp lit air
Or out where the moon is lost?
Where would you be when the white waves roar
On the tumbling storm-torn sea?
Tucked inside
Where it’s calm and dry
Or searching for stars in the furious sky
Whipped by the whine of the gale’s wild cry
Out in the night with me?

Captivating images. One of the things that worked best for me in this book is the artwork. The illustrations just made me go ooooh and aaaah each time I turn a page, that I couldn’t get myself to return the book in our library’s bookshelves. I knew I had to feature it here and share it with everyone else. Just plain gorgeous. The illustrator David Ray is a self-taught artist born and raised in Appleton Wisconsin. He moved to New York to begin a career in painting when he became a young man and has been regularly exhibited in New York galleries (source: jacketflap of the book). Here are some of the images that I thought you might enjoy.

Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve to everyone. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.

The Night of the Whippoorwill. Poems selected by Nancy Larrick and illustrated by David Ray. Philomel Books, New York, 1992. Book borrowed from the library. Book photos were taken by me.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “Waiting on the New Year: Night of the Whippoorwill – Poems Selected by Nancy Larrick and illustrated by David Ray

  1. It is still not the 31st here in Colorado, but close. The book you’re sharing is lovely & still available used on Amazon. I looked it up. It looks gorgeous, Myra, all the night things. Have you seen that new book out titled Dark Emperor And Other Poems of The Night? It too is great. But, to end the year with something from Karla Kuskin is the best thing. The poem you shared is comforting, somehow, with seemingly rhetorical questions. She is a favorite poet of mine, & one of hers I love is ‘Thoughts That Were Put Into Words’ – It’s a goodbye poem, & fits well also in saying goodbye to the year. I hope you can find it. It is in the book, The Place my words are looking for: By Paul B. Janeczko. Thank you for a beautiful post!


    • Oh Linda, what a lovely recommendation. I just tried searching for this book – I am heartbroken to note that it’s not available for borrowing even in our community libraries!! It’s for reference only. Appears like I’d have to purchase this book soon. I have now fallen in love with Karla Kuskin.


  2. Pingback: Poetry for the New Year: A Collaborative Blogpost from the GatheringBooks Ladies «

  3. Pingback: List of Novels in Verse and Poetry Books for Children and Round-up for January 2012 «

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