Some More New Titles for National Poetry Month: Animals, Insects, and One Dutch Lullaby

h1 April 24th, 2008 by jules

Well, it’s still National Poetry Month last time I checked, and I had wanted to talk about poetry in April way more than I have. But I’ve managed to get to some new picture book poetry anthologies today. Actually, the first one is an exception — it’s not an anthology, but it is still a perfect fit for National Poetry Month. Let’s get right to it, then . . .

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
by Eugene Field
Illustrated by Giselle Potter
Schwartz & Wade
Release date: May 13, 2008

I’m trying to be better about not posting about books way way WAY before they get released, but I’m including this striking picture book in today’s in-honor-of-National-Poetry-
Month round-up, as it’s a children’s poem written over one hundred years ago by American writer Eugene Field — and it’ll be just a matter of weeks before this title hits the shelves anyway. Field was an essayist (known for his humorous essays) and a journalist, but he was best known for his children’s poetry (“He believed children should indulge their daydreams and imaginations before they must assume the responsibilities of adulthood,” writes illustrator Giselle Potter at the book’s close). This is a new picture book adaptation of the timeless poem by Potter. Much like illustrator Rebecca Gibbon, whose most recent picture book I reviewed here this week, Potter’s spreads—speaking from a dimensionality standpoint, or spatial extent, not as in quality—come across as rather flat and her perspective often slightly askew, giving her illustrations a classic folk-art feel. I’ve always been a fan. I love the sense of joy that pervades her work, the rich tones of her watercolors. And, boy howdy, let me tell you that with this title, she takes “rich” to an all-new level. This is a night-time tale after all, and Potter’s not joking around about her blues. These are deep, luxuriant evening blues and strong, robust browns (such as, of the wooden shoe carrying the three wee ones through the sky). In a fascinating Illustrator’s Note at the close of the book, she writes:

Although {the poem} is one of the shortest, simplest texts I’ve ever illustrated, it was by far the most challenging. The repetitive imagery made it very difficult to make each picture different. But in the end, I enjoyed being challenged.

I think she does a fine job of conveying her respect for the tale (“{the poem} had a strangeness that often exists in old stories and rhymes for children, a sensibility that is hard to find today,” she also wrote), never overpowering the rhyme with too many details or too much clutter. However, there is just enough detail to enchant: the dreaming boy’s mother in her star-clad, night-sky-blue gown and hints of what might have spawned his night-time dream for the observant child to find — a bright yellow ball, some jacks, and his wooden shoes on his bedroom floor (representing the full moon, stars and herring fish in the sky, and the boat, of course). This is a bed-time read you want to let yourself fall into (if you can get The Doobie Brothers’ 1981 “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” from this kickin’ CD — which, o yes, I still own on vinyl — out of your head. A childhood favorite that one was for me and my brother).

* * * * * * *

On the Farm
by David Elliott
Illustrated by Holly Meade
March 2008

Here’s another one of the top-ten best picture book titles I’ve seen this year. David Elliott brings us in thirteen spare and graceful poems a day in the life of a farm and the animals who live there. Fittingly, we start out with The Rooster, the title of (almost) every poem serving as the first line for each (“The Rooster / Crows and struts. / He’s got feathers! / He’s got guts! . . .”) and move on to The Cow (who is “utterly amazing,” but hey, what is normally a painful pun actually works in this poem), The Pony, The Dog, The Sheep, and much more. With an impressive economy of expression, Elliott manages to snag and entertain the reader with his observant eye, humor, and spot-on meter, my favorite one being “The Barn Cat”:

had better
think twice.

Meade’s woodblock-print illustrations, then brought to vivid life in watercolors, are a visual delight. There’s nothing shy about them: They’re huge, they’re sprawling, they’re eye-popping. This is, apparently, the first time she’s used woodcuts for a picture book, and I hope she treats us to it again. These woodblocks complement Elliott’s text with warmth and humor and energy — as well as a real reverence for farm life. In case you missed it, The Horn Book gave this one a starred review, writing
“{f}rom an alluring cover with a rooster in full crow to its concluding, gently ironic ode to the silence of rabbits, this book will make an unusually interesting choice for farm-animal storytimes.” Bonus: Visit this page and you’ll see a poem that didn’t make it in the final copy. Enjoy!

* * * * * * *

Oodles of Animals
by Lois Ehlert
Release date: May 2008

For yet another winning anthology of animal poems—this time farm animals and beyond—for the wee’est of children, there’s Lois Ehlert’s latest, Oodles of Animals. Ebullient is what this is. And clever. But that’s no surprise, as this is Ehlert we’re talking about here. An Author’s Note tells us that Ehlert’s “always been amazed by the diversity of animals. As I began this book, I chose animals I liked, both wild and tame, from different animal families.” Indeed, she did: In a total of sixty-four poems, you’ve got your amphibians (from the gecko to the newt) to sea life (from the shrimp to the starfish) to wild life to domesticated animals to your zoo fare — and everything in between. The rhymes are playful (“Be sure you know / where and how / before you try / to milk a cow”), humorously cautionary (“A wolf downs his food / in a hurry. / If you hear him howl, / walk backward, and worry”), and unabashedly silly (“If a chicken crossed / the road and rambled, / would the eggs she laid / be scrambled?”). Wordplay abounds as well. If you’re familiar with Ehlert’s collage illustrations, you know what wonder she can spin with the simplest of shapes and boldest of colors. Yup, that’s what we’ve got here again. With great clarity and splashes of color and simple shapes and spot-on composition, these are animal shapes that will draw children in like a magnet — rendered with colored papers, scissors, pinking shears, and a hole punch, using nine shapes (square, rectangle, triangle, circle, diamond, half circle, oval, heart, and teardrop). Read with your favorite wee’est, then get your own paper and scissors out and try yourselves.

* * * * * * *

The Monarch’s Progress: Poems With Wings
by Avis Harley
March 2008

Butterfly lovers, take note: Children’s poet Avis Harley has a new anthology—eighteen poems—dedicated solely to the beautiful Monarch butterfly. These include haiku, sonnets, cinquains, limericks, and other poem types. There are four acrostic poems dedicated to each stage of metamorphosis in the butterfly (if you don’t know what an acrostic poem is, read here, and I’m not just sending you to that, since Elaine dedicated an acrostic poem to me and Eisha there. WOOT!). Harley plays with poem shape as well, the poem entitled “Catching a Butterfly” created as one huge zig-zag. Tone ranges from playful (in the wordplay of “You’ve Got Male,” a poem about how one can spot a male monarch) to learned (as she effortlessly weaves in scientific facts about the insects in several poems) to ponderous and weightier, such as with “Chaos,” her take on Edward Lorenz’s “butterfly effect” (included below).

Harley’s pencil illustrations—soft, border-less, and on crisp, clean, white backgrounds—accompany the poems. The book opens with an introduction that discusses the various forms in the anthology, and the book closes with “Small Matters,” some commentary about each poem, providing context for each poem’s subject matter. A good choice for poetry units and science units in elementary classrooms. See also Elaine Magliaro’s review (and there may be more blog reviews out there, so be sure to do a search if you’re so inclined).

* * *

That’s it for now. Perhaps before the month ends, I can get in some more anthology reviews. Until next time . . .

10 comments to “Some More New Titles for National Poetry Month: Animals, Insects, and One Dutch Lullaby”

  1. Jules,

    I really liked ON THE FARM. Love Meade’s large, bold woodcuts. They really complement Elliott’s spare poems. I, too, think its an outstanding picture book. My friend who owns a children’s book shop is the person who called my attention to ON THE FARM.

    I think Harley’s THE MONARCH’S PROGRESS would be an excellent classroom resource. I like the variety of poems she wrote for the book.

    I haven’t seen the other two books yet–but I’m a big fan of Giselle Potter and Lois Ehlert.

  2. Yeah, it is nice how much variety of poems Harley includes. And, yes, I think On the Farm is one of the best picture books this year. Have you noticed I have an informal Jules’ Caldecott Contender list going?!

    A Visitor for Bear
    In a Blue Room
    What to Do About Alice
    On the Farm

    Hmmm, I’ll have to think about if there are others.

    Ehlert’s book is great, Elaine. I think you’ll really like it, and it’s CHOCK FULL ‘O’ poems. Giselle’s book is just eye-popping with that dark blue. I’m partial to a beautiful, deep blue anyway. I admit. And I have a special place in my heart for that strange, little poem.

  3. P.S. Holly Meade has a contact address online, Elaine. Wouldn’t it be great to talk to her about her art in a seven-questions-over-breakfast interview? I’ll have to jot her name down. I love her stuff. And this was the first time she’s done woodcuts. Can you believe it? They’re beautiful.

  4. Jules,

    I’d love to read an interview with Holly Meade!

    Of the books you’ve listed, the only one I haven’t seen is A VISITOR FOR BEAR. All the blog reviews that I have read about the book are highly positive. I think the other books are great.

    I just picked up two new picture books the other day that I recommend: DUCK, which was written and illustrated by Randy Cecil and YUKI AND THE ONE THOUSAND CARRIERS, which was written by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Yan Nascimbene. I really like both the story and the art in Cecil’s book. Nascimbene’s art in YUKI is absolutely elegant. (I don’t know if he is eligible for a Caldecott.) Whelan’s book is historical fiction set in Japan (17th/18th century) about a young girl who must travel far from home. She misses her home and teacher. As she journeys along the 300-mile route to Edo, she writes her thoughts about the sights/things she observes along the way in haiku.

  5. Elaine, I’ve got Duck (to-be-reviewed), and it actually makes me tear up every dang time I read it. Beautiful book.

    Not heard of the other one. Will look for it!

  6. I’ve always loved Winken Blynken & Nod!

    If you ever get the chance, be sure to check out the sculpture of the kids in the shoe in the center of the town square of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Adorable town, lovely bed & breakfasts, delicious diner and a lifesize sculpture of WB&N complete with water in the summer!!!

  7. […] Lovely, yes? I reviewed the book here in April if you’d like to read more about it. And, again, thanks to Giselle for stopping by. […]

  8. […] The illustrator of one of my favorite picture books ever, the 1997 Caldecott Honor winner Hush!: A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho, is here this morning for a breakfast chat. Woodblock artist Holly Meade has illustrated almost thirty picture book titles in her career, launched in 1992, including what I thought was one of 2008’s most outstanding picture books, David Elliott’s On the Farm, published by Candlewick. (My ‘08 review is here). […]

  9. A teacher has asked me to find children’s books with ”repetitive imagery.” I understand repetitive language, and I understand imagery, but I’m not sure about that term.

    Can you help?


    Judy Estes

  10. […] has published themed picture book collections of his poems, such as In the Sea, In the Wild, On the Farm, On the Wing, and In the Past. I felt I would be stepping into big shoes, because many titles in […]

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