Desert Song

Overview

When day is done, the sun streaks the desert sky with flame. Soon the stars come out, and with them, a host of creatures. Bats spill from a hillside cave; insects seek out the sweet fruit of the saguaro; and a lone coyote sings his haunting song to the moon.

In this lyrical evocation of the desert night, celebrated author Tony Johnston and Caldecott medalist Ed Young offer young readers an unforgettable look ...

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Overview

When day is done, the sun streaks the desert sky with flame. Soon the stars come out, and with them, a host of creatures. Bats spill from a hillside cave; insects seek out the sweet fruit of the saguaro; and a lone coyote sings his haunting song to the moon.

In this lyrical evocation of the desert night, celebrated author Tony Johnston and Caldecott medalist Ed Young offer young readers an unforgettable look at the many plants and animals that thrive in this surprisingly lush and fragile wilderness.

As the heat of the desert day fades into night, various nocturnal animals, including bats, coyotes, and snakes, venture out to find food.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Day is done./ Twilight comes./ The sun goes down/ and streaks the clouds/ with flame." Johnston (The Barn Owls) lyrically evokes the end of desert heat and the beginning of shadows at the close of day as Young's (Lon Po Po) opening spreads of a sky aflame in yellow hues give way to orange. By the first page of text, wine-colored clouds engulf two lonely cacti. As Johnston's poem picks up speed ("Suddenly/ with a rush of wings/ bats spill from a cave in a hill"), Young offers a view from within the bats' cave as they soar over a cactus-filled horizon. A life-size view of flowers and insects accompanies Johnston's litany of the exotic inhabitants ("weevils,/ beetles--/ seeking the saguaro's/ sweet fruit"). Like a refrain, the rhythmic text circles back to the bats. At the poem's conclusion, the winged nocturnal creatures cling to the cave's roof, and Young imagines their last breathtaking view of the desert at daybreak, as the sun paints the terrain in sherbet hues. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
The desert is hot and barren and colorless—or is it? As twilight comes to the desert, "the melting heat is gone;" "bats spill from a cave in a hill;" "ribbons of cloud tie up the old day in gold;" and "the bats fly on." Ed Young washes each page in orange or gold, then blue-black and pale blue-green, as twilight becomes midnight and then cycles toward dawn. Insects buzz, bats whirr, coyotes howl—the desert truly sings at night. This free verse picture book concentrates on the bats' nightly search for insects before they head home to a cave full of hungry young, but along the desert path there are snakes, owls, and sweet saguaro fruit full of moths and beetles. Tony Johnson shares with young readers the joys of careful listening and observation in a landscape not usually associated with either music or busy activity. Perfect as a creative writing prompt or part of a lesson on animal life at night. 2000, Sierra Club Books. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Karen Leggett
School Library Journal
K-Gr 5-A poetic text and striking images evoke the sounds and sights of the desert night. As evening descends, the still landscape begins to hum with life. "The wind whispers./Wings whisper/as insects fly-," and on through the hours as owls, snakes, and coyotes emerge to look for food. Just before dawn, the nocturnal animals "slip into the cool/of desert hiding places./-into pools of shade"; the bats "-sleep then,/clustered/close and still." Young's mixed-media collage artwork complements the text beautifully; layers of cut-out forms of various textures and deep colors over background pastel illustrations create images that are as haunting and rich as the language. From dusk to dawn, a treat.-Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Experience the desert at night. "Day is done. Twilight comes. The sun goes down and streaks the clouds with flame." As the heat of the day fades and the sky darkens, the reader meets the inhabitants of the nighttime desert—the bats, insects, owls, coyotes, and snakes. Searching for food in the dark and cool desert air, these creatures work through the night until the sky lightens and day breaks again.Written as a poem, Johnston's love of both the desert and bats shines through. She is the author of more than 100 books for young people. The illustrations, done by Ed Young, a 1990 Caldecott Medal recipient, are the perfect complement to the poem. This is a Sierra Club Books for Children title. As the sky fades from red to darkness, the reader sees the desert with new eyes. How many travelers have the opportunity to hear the whirring of the insects or catch glimpses of bats hunting? Johnston writes, "suddenly with a rush of wings bats spill from a cave in a hill. They have been sleeping all day long. Now they pour into the night like dry leaves blowing, like shadows on the wing. They soar. They race across the silent sweep of sand, their small mouse faces thrust into the wind." The howling wolf is shown, bathed in moonlight. Young illustrates the text perfectly with a variety of textures. Broad cactus leaves are made of fabric, and a large lizard is made of woven matting. Illustrations have real depth, and are multi-layered. As the night fades, the scenes lighten up, ending with a family of quail silhouetted in the peach-colored morning sky. This would be a wonderful addition to any collection, and could be used with children in a story-hour setting, or as a quiet bedtime story. In a classroom this would work well in a desert unit or as a piece of poetry. Johnston has written a book that tells about the desert in a way that most people never see, and Young's illustrations show it.
Kirkus Reviews
When twilight comes to the Sonoran desert, bats fly from their cave "like dry leaves blowing, like shadows on the wing," searching for insects. Moths, ants, weevils, and beetles populate the darkness. Some night animals sing, the owl and the coyote ("Song of wonder. Song of hunger. Song of being alone"), in contrast to the silence of snakes and the whirr of the bats. The text is a song, too, singing the desert's beauty. Young's striking illustrations of pastels, collage, and textured paper show animals not mentioned in the text—javelinas and a lizard—as well as some that are: bats, owl, quail, and coyote. Oddly, the snake, though mentioned, is missing from the pictures, perhaps hidden in the sinuous moonlit ridges of sand. When "morning blooms" the "night things / slip into the cool / of desert hiding places," and the bats fly home until "twilight comes again." Pictures and text are gentle and poetic, suggesting the mystery of the desert at night, where all is not as quiet as it might first appear. (Picture book. 4-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871564917
  • Publisher: Sierra Club Books for Children
  • Publication date: 8/19/2000
  • Series: Books for Children Series
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: AD430L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Johnston is the author of more than one hundred books for young readers, including Desert Song and Desert Dog. Tony's work has received high praise from reviewers and garnered many prestigious awards. She lives in San Marino, California.

Illustrator

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Read an Excerpt

Day is done.
Twilight comes.
The sun goes down and streaks the clouds with flame.

The melting heat is gone.
It leaves its last warm breath wavering over the land.

A quail calls from a shaded hiding place.

Day is done.
Twilight comes.

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