Singing Away the Dark by C. Woodward
Woodward, Caroline. Singing Away the Dark. Illus. Julie Morstad. Vancouver: Simply Read Books, 2010. Print.
Verse has always been present in texts for children, and it is a pleasure to read a modern children’s book that employs verse effectively. Singing Away the Dark is a poem about a young girl traversing forest and field on a dark, winter morning to catch the bus to her rural school. Thematically, the journey is about a child’s emotional resourcefulness in the face of the routine but intimidating challenge of walking alone through the dark countryside. The verse is spare, balanced, and evocative and flows nicely when read aloud.
What elevates Singing Away the Dark above the text’s potential for a reductionist, sentimental reading is the confluence of Woodward’s verse and Julie Morstad’s illustrations. Expressive, spacious, with a balance of stark and detailed representation, Singing Away the Dark’s illustrations look Canadian. The feeling they evoke along with the text speaks directly to a current conception of what childhood in this country contributes to our national sense of aesthetics and our place in the world.
I came upon my four year old “reading” Singing Away the Dark independently. Noticing my presence, she said, haltingly, “Mom… the pictures in this book are very… beautiful.” Her awe-struck reaction seemed to mirror a facet of the Canadian experience—being stunned, silent in the grip of the vast, rather uncanny beauty of the wilderness. Woodward and Morstad have succeeded in imbuing Singing Away the Dark with a nuanced emotional weight and a sensibility that speaks to something intrinsic in the experience of being Canadian.
To encounter a beautiful and very personal example of Canadiana like Singing Away the Dark is thrilling. For it to be appealing to, and appropriate for, pre-schoolers, early readers, and older children interested in poetry is even better.
Recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Matilda Roche
Matilda spends her days lavishing attention on the University of Alberta’s metadata but children’s illustrated books, literature for young adults and graphic novels also make her heart sing. Her reviews benefit from the critical influence of a four year old daughter and a one year old son – both geniuses. Matilda’s super power is the ability to read comic books aloud.