Cover image for The night rainbow
The night rainbow
Esbensen, Barbara Juster.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Orchard Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
A poem based on ancient legends about the northern lights from people who associated the fiery illuminations with animals, ghosts, dancers, and raging battles.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E98.A88 E72 2000 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Since ancient times the northern lights -- the celestial display also known as aurora borealis -- have astonished all who witness their shimmering formations. The peoples of the far north have long spun legends about the lights, imagining ghosts, sleek animals, and raging battles flickering across the night sky. Now a distinguished poet and an acclaimed artist weave those ancient legends together to create an exceptional picture book, conjuring up both the beauty and spirit of the aurora.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 6^-9. Inspired by the northern lights, this poetic picture book conjures images derived from the traditions of the Musquakie, the Ottawa, and the Inuit as well as the writings of the Scandinavians, the Russians, and the ancient Norse. Because the poetry makes so many references to unfamiliar traditions, it is most effective when read after the appended notes on the legends, one of two double-page spreads that end the book. The other discusses the science that explains the phenomenon without diminishing its essential beauty. Davie's lovely pastel-and-gouache illustrations of the eerily lit night sky incorporate nature, lore, and the wonder of the aurora in its many forms. Particularly striking is the sea painting, pulsing with the rhythms of fish, whales, sea, and sky. A fine book for classrooms studying the aurora or for children fortunate enough to have seen the northern lights. --Carolyn Phelan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite its shimmering paintings and elegant metaphors about the northern lights, this unusual book from the team behind The Star Maiden proves confusing. The late Esbensen's long poem combines exquisite descriptions of the aurora borealis with references to the legends of various northern peoples in such a complex, fragmentary way that her narrative does not achieve unity, leaving many passages begging for explication. The book does include a note explaining why Esbensen wrote the poem, and four pages of back matter (a list of forms the aurora takes, an essay about its legends and scientific background). However, many sequences in the poem either lack transitions or require prior knowledge for understanding. For example, the poet dreams of Inuit children who shout (in an allusion explained only in an appended essay), "We call out in our dreams,/ Kick the ball of light,/ Ancestors of Ancestors! Kick/ the whirling walrus head." Davie's pastel and gouache illustrations, on the other hand, impart a sense of the "wonderment" Esbensen describes, combining skyscapes with images from the legends which inspired them. White light appears to etch the shape of geese from old Norse tales, and "the breath of ghostly/ Hungarian horses" materializes in Davie's art like frost on a windowpane--but even these splendid illustrations do not clarify the muddled text. Ages 5-9. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-6-An evocation of the human response to the aurora borealis. Esbensen's poetry invites readers to consider the northern lights and the myths and legends that peoples have created in their honor over the ages. Musquakie, Finnish, Ottawa, Scandinavian, Russian, Hungarian and other pourquoi tales mingle fleetingly on the pages of the book. Several concluding pages expand on the legends mentioned in the poetic text, describe the various forms of the aurora, and give some scientific information about the phenomena and its southern twin, the aurora australis. Davie's double-page spreads in pastel and gouache are notable for presenting varied displays in addition to the familiar curtain-form depictions. The book does have a few shortcomings. The afterword is a bit sketchy in describing the various cultural interpretations of the aurora. Also, although the illustrations are attractive, they depict literally the legends in question so the geese, horses, human figures, a throne, and other objects are painted into the auroral displays. However, since few of the potential readers will view an actual aurora, the idea that might likely result, that auroras are some kind of movie in the sky, is unfortunate. The amazing variety and rapid movement of an aurora is virtually impossible to depict on paper. Esbensen and Davie have made a valiant, but not totally satisfying, effort to create an appreciation for the aurora's mystery. A good choice for communities in which brief cultural information about the aurora is needed for students who are already familiar with the real thing.-Sue Sherif, Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Library, AK (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.