cover image The Night Rainbow

The Night Rainbow

Barbara Juster Esbensen. Scholastic, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-531-30244-6

Despite its shimmering paintings and elegant metaphors about the northern lights, this unusual book from the team behind The Star Maiden proves confusing. The late Esbensen's long poem combines exquisite descriptions of the aurora borealis with references to the legends of various northern peoples in such a complex, fragmentary way that her narrative does not achieve unity, leaving many passages begging for explication. The book does include a note explaining why Esbensen wrote the poem, and four pages of back matter (a list of forms the aurora takes, an essay about its legends and scientific background). However, many sequences in the poem either lack transitions or require prior knowledge for understanding. For example, the poet dreams of Inuit children who shout (in an allusion explained only in an appended essay), ""We call out in our dreams,/ Kick the ball of light,/ Ancestors of Ancestors! Kick/ the whirling walrus head."" Davie's pastel and gouache illustrations, on the other hand, impart a sense of the ""wonderment"" Esbensen describes, combining skyscapes with images from the legends which inspired them. White light appears to etch the shape of geese from old Norse tales, and ""the breath of ghostly/ Hungarian horses"" materializes in Davie's art like frost on a windowpane--but even these splendid illustrations do not clarify the muddled text. Ages 5-9. (Mar.)