Children's Review: Red Sky at Night

"Long ago, here and far away, people looked for clues in nature to predict the weather," Elly MacKay's (If You Hold a Seed; Shadow Chasers) text begins. "They learned from experience by watching the shapes of clouds or noticing the behavior of animals. This wisdom was passed down through sayings." The story starts with a father and two children looking out of a large picture window at a blazing red sunset. One of the two children holds a fishing rod in one hand and the father points at the sky: "Red sky at night, sailor's delight."

Full dark now, the next page gives a peek inside the house from the outside, a child and a litter of kittens all in silhouette through the windows. "When the dew is on the grass,/ no rain will come to pass." Next, a double-page spread shows the father and children loaded down with fishing gear, leaving the house trailed by tumbling, pouncing kittens. The colors are muted, the sky a light gray: "Evening red and morning gray,/ two sure signs of one fine day."

And a fine day it is, indeed. The fog is a good sign--"[w]hen the mist creeps up the hill,/ fishers, it's time to try your skill"--and father and kids climb into their boat (the Cloud Nine) ready for a day on the water. As the family floats down the river, dragonflies fly low over lily pads and sheep graze in emerald green pastures. "When the wind is from the West,/ then the fishes bite the best" depicts a fairytale-like double-page spread, the above- and underwater worlds taking up equal space on the page.

Under a clear, dark sky, the children fall asleep cuddled in their father's arms; an owl soars across a "ring around the moon," alerting the camping trio that "rain will come soon." Their trip back home is full of signs of impending bad weather: "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning!" and "Trout jump high when rain is nigh." Luckily, the family makes it back into the house in the nick of time.

MacKay's illustrations are exquisite, all pieces made "using paper and ink" and then "set into a miniature theater and photographed, giving them their unique three-dimensional quality." Her colors are vibrant and her world teeming with life. The book even gives life to the weather itself, depicting the winds and storms as ethereal cats playing and prowling. In her well-researched back matter, MacKay explains all the weather sayings in the book, as well as her sources for the material. Red Sky at Night is deliberately and beautifully paced in such a way that the book is entirely comprehensible as a wordless piece, making it accessible to pre-readers. The sayings enhance the work, though, allowing for both entertaining read-alouds and solo weather journeys. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Shelf Talker: Elly MacKay's Red Sky at Night is an ode to the natural world and human appreciation of it.

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