Know what I got as an early Christmas present? Well, it wasn’t made specifically for me, by any stretch of the imagination—it was made for readers everywhere—but I was very happy to see Farrar, Straus and Giroux release in September a companion book to Uri Shulevitz’s classic, Caldecott Honor–winning Snow. (Snow was an absolute staple for me during the winter months when, once upon a time, I was a school librarian.) The new book is called Dusk, it’s beautiful, and yes, it’s considered a “companion” book, though it’s out 15 years after its predecessor. (Shulevitz also devoted a book to dawn nearly 40 years ago.)
Snow was all about the magic of winter, and Dusk is about the magic of light during winter. Shulevitz even kicks it all off, fittingly, with solid orange endpapers, signaling the primary color of sunset. But the book is about more than just precious sunlight during brutally short days. It’s about the magic of the holiday season and how lights, our attempts to make up for the copious darkness, make the magic occur.
When the book opens, it’s winter. “Days are short. Nights are long.” Also short are the book’s sentences, which let the art primarily tell the story, especially toward the beginning and end of the book. “Boy with dog” and “grandfather with beard” take a walk. They watch the sun set over the river, which makes the boy sad. It’s dusk, and “the day is no more.”
But as they head back into the city, they see people bustling about the city streets. Sure, some are heading home after work, but many are out shopping. It’s here that we meet several shoppers—it’s also here that Shulevitz gets his wordiest—and they’re all funky-quirky fun. There’s man with cravat; woman with a hat, shopping for food for her cat; a retired acrobat; and, you guessed it, a visitor from planet Zataplat. (What he wants isn’t quite clear, since he speaks words like “sveet candoosky ikla bloosky.”)
The world gets darker, but once “nature’s lights go out, city’s lights come on.” We see streetlights, window displays lit up brilliantly, bright holiday decorations all over town, Christmas tree lights, menorahs, a kinara of Kwanzaa, shop lights, neon signs, the headlights of cars, and much more. On my favorite spread, depicting a busy city street, there’s a big sign that says “READ BOOKS” and, underneath it, a man on the street with a sign that says “Be good or ELSE!” (The man’s sign makes me think of Sendak in a thousand ways.) Across the street there’s a McGoose Theatre. It’s hoppin’ in this small town, and everyone’s out to partake in the holiday busy-ness—but in a healthy, balanced way, not a slightly-unhinged-Black-Friday-push-through-the-crowds kind of way.
The cool colors of the boy and his grandfather and the winter streets are offset by the gorgeous yellows and (mostly) orange of the fading sun, and the palette gets progressively brighter as the two explore the town and all the holiday offerings. Many spreads have a primarily horizontally-based orientation, as if we’re seeing actors on a stage, which makes for compelling pages turns as we follow the two on their journey.
Toward the book’s close, after the boy notes the dimming skies, the text slows way down, many simple sentences in the book taking up several double page spreads. Shulevitz manages to make this pacing work, and it all makes the reader pause to take in the wonder. The final illustration is resplendent, the vivid city lights at their fullest, while the boy exclaims, “It’s as light as day.”
A wonderful holiday read. It’ll light up a story time in more ways than one.
DUSK. Copyright © 2013 by Uri Shulevitz. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, New York.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.