Book Review: Black and Bittern Was Night

8 Oct

Today’s book review is for Black and Bittern Was Night, written by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by John Martz, published by Kids Can Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Black and Bittern Was Night is a Halloween story told entirely in nonsense verse. Skul-a-mug-mugs have come to town and frightened all of the adults into canceling trick-or-treating. The children, however, refuse to be intimidated. They band together to take back the night in this humorous book.

“The Jabberwocky” is one of my favorite poems, my 23-month-old daughter can already recite some of it, so I’m no stranger to nonsense verse. In fact, that was one of the elements that made me request to read this book. Sadly, Heidbreder is no Lewis Carroll. The nonsense language was often excessively dense, making it incredibly challenging to decipher what, exactly was going on in the story. One of the joys of nonsense verse is being able to envision a story, even when you have never encountered the words used to tell it. The invented words should still conjure up strong imagery through sound. These ones didn’t. Part of that might also have been because it was difficult to read them–the combinations of letters felt awkward and non-intuitive.

I wasn’t terribly enamored of Martz’s digital illustrations, either. I did like the Halloween color palette–which conveyed a clear tone and sense of place. He also used a sort of cute, simplified cartooning style that made clear that this was a fun story and not a scary one. The rendering of the children in the town was alright–nothing special, but nothing awful, either. However, I found that the backgrounds of the town felt really flat. It was an artistic choice, of course–just one that didn’t work for me.

As far as Halloween books go, it’s nicely designed. I appreciate that the publisher took care to try to put together a quality product. Too often it seems that holiday books get thoughtlessly churned out, splashed with glitter, and put onto the market with no real thought as to content or design.

I’m going with 2 out of 5 stars here. The book was okay. And I give the author credit for taking a gamble on nonsense verse. Even when it’s executed flawlessly, it can be hard for a lot of folks to swallow. As for me, I hold nonsense verse to the same standards that I hold traditional verse–flow, rhythm, meter, sound, etc should all work together to produce an outstanding final product. That didn’t happen here.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.


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