Nightclub on Elm Tree
by Joan Cimaglia

"Mr. Owl's getting antsy and just might fly the coop, so Miss Spider better speed it up and dish him out the scoop."

This is a delightful poem about the secret lives who visit the elm tree after dark. The title is a clever play on the well-known film, Nightmare on Elm Street. While this is no horror story, it does take place in the oft-times brutal world of nature, where survival of the fittest dictates fate. The story starts off with the narrator introducing the beautiful elm tree that rests just outside her door. From there, the readers are given a private peek into the covert beings that visit the tree. The cicadas, in adorable scarves and big smiles, start the poem off by celebrating happy hour. Evening falls and we are introduced to Miss Spider greeting the night owl, who laments about his travels and hidings from thieves and ne’er-do-wells. Happy to find a friend for the night and desperate to keep the owl’s company, Miss Spider cheerfully delivers commentary on the nightlife around her. She begins with the flamboyant, brightly-colored butterfly and continues on to the night beetle, who meets with some investors. Yellow jackets, bullfrogs, and blackbirds (to name a few) follow.

The illustrations reflect the poems with clever whimsy and are sure to make children and adults alike smile. The “Phantoms of the Darkness,” for example, are big, wide eyeballs hovering in the night sky. The queen bee flaunts her stuff in a pink tutu while the other (male) bees admire her. The sweet turtledoves celebrate their wedding anniversary together in an adorable basket perched on a branch in the elm tree, and Mr. Grasshopper will inspire courage as he dares to drop to one knee and ask for his love’s hand in marriage. Other animals bring to attention the virtues of patience; the Mockingbird is once again flying solo while he awaits his lover’s decisions. This is a particularly good lesson in the current atmosphere of immediate gratification and personal technology. Before the narrator leaves us, she gives the reader a final lesson about gratitude with the praying mantis who is spellbound by the full moon. This is a beautiful image for the readers, encouraging all to pause and consider the beauty of the night sky. Finally, Miss Spider leaves Mr. Owl to ruminate over the stories she has delivered. Mr. Owl realizes that “there are none so blind as those who cannot see.”

Overall, this is a unique and crafty book that encourages the reader to slow down and consider the nature around them. It’s a busy world up in the elm tree and it takes patience and unconditional love to be invited inside. The author explores themes of respect and inspires a celebration of the individual. Each one of the night beings have their own agendas, and none are more or less important than any of the others. And while some of these animals and insects are joyful and playful, others might be a little cranky or even lonely. No matter what kind of personality each of them have, all of the night beings are respected by Miss Spider. Inclusion is an important theme in this cheerful book.

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