Recess. The word itself brings back memories of primary school and those dreaded middle school days. Canadian young adults are likely reminded of hours spent climbing over the snow piles left by the plows, pretending to be astronauts or huskies or famous explorers. Alas, the snow would melt, and kids would move on to games like four square, red rover, and jump rope.
As far as I know, recess is a pretty similar experience for most children across the country. But what if the ice never melted? What if the snowbanks were the usual playground landscape year-round? What if recess… were held in the dark?
Strange as it may seem, playing hide and seek in the pitch-black of a snowy schoolyard is not uncommon for students in Inuvik, Northwest Territories—way up in Northern Canada, where a large segment of the population is Inuit—whose daily lives inspired their teacher-turned-writer to compose a series of poems, aptly titled Recess in the Dark.
The earth here tilts
in such a way
that night is dark
and so is day.
So begins one of award-winning author Kalli Dakos’s poems, set in Canada’s third-largest province or territory by area, where for six weeks, in the dead of winter, the sun does not shine so much as a single ray on the territory’s inhabitants. Daytime? Dark. Nighttime? Also dark. Christmas? The darkest days of all. And recess? Recess is muffled faces, rabbit-fur mittens, and games of tag by the light of the moon.
Since recess in the dark is likely a foreign concept to most, Kalli’s poetry collection is a perfect opportunity to share historical, cultural, geographical, and ethnic differences with children across the world. Where do the northern kids hide from the cold? What games do they play? What does the sky look like, away from big cities and pollution? A curious young reader will find these answers and more intertwined into Kalli’s silly, wistful, touching, and inspiring poems.
But it isn’t enough to merely read about the lives of schoolchildren in the Great White North. Without Erin Mercer’s magical illustrations, readers wouldn’t be able to wrap their heads around the immense beauty of Northern Canada. Her enchanting drawings of bears, bunnies, kids, and the Northern Lights bring Kalli’s poems to life, filling readers with a sense of wonder that will leave them yearning to journey north to see the lights for themselves.
On a playground
icy and white,
children have recess
in the dark of night.
Teach kids about other cultures; they’ll grow up more open-minded and accepting. Teach kids about different types of writing; they’ll begin to recognize the power and the value of words. Teach kids about art; they’ll find a new appreciation for natural beauty and maybe even learn to capture it themselves. Recess in the Dark is the ideal blend of literature, culture, visual art, and magic to expand any reader’s horizons.
So picture this. Maybe you’re in an apartment in Beijing, or a mansion on the East Coast of the United States. Perhaps an old cabin on the Prairies, or even a hotel in Greece, right by the Mediterranean Sea. You’re sitting with your children. You watch them settling in for the night, and all you can think of is how you want the best for their future. You turn off most of the lights, being to read and, together, you imagine that your night sky is the same one as in Recess in the Dark.