Flashlight Night

"FLASHLIGHT.../ ...opens up the night./ Leads you past old post and rail/ along a long-forgotten trail." The "you" to whom the omniscient narrator refers is three adventuresome kids--one clutching a flashlight, another a teddy bear--who climb down from a tree house to explore the night. They find a forgotten trail that goes "into woods no others dare,/ for fear of what is waiting there."

Actually, the kids never leave the backyard. True, in Fred Koehler's broody dark-pencil art, digitally tinted with colors that look cloaked by night, the flashlight's glow illuminates fantastical scenes: a forest where a tiger lurks, a staircase leading to an ancient tomb and so on. But Koehler uses a darker palette to show the spots that the flashlight misses--the real world that the kids occupy as they indulge their imaginations. While the flashlight may reveal a pirate ship at sea, keen-eyed readers will notice that the light misses a backyard swimming pool whose water, in the minds of these fantasy-chasing kids, becomes the ocean.

Poet Matt Forrest Esenwine's first book favorably recalls Where the Wild Things Are, which put the imagination-sparking power of nighttime, with its blank slate-like quality, on the picture book map. But unlike Sendak, Esenwine gives parents the last word. At Flashlight Night's end, the kids, having had a close call with an octopus, return to the safety of the tree house, where they read by flashlight until they hear a gentle admonishment that has the nimblest double meaning: "Shhh.../ ...lights out." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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