Poetry Friday: DiTerlizzi’s Creachlings
and Three New Anthologies

h1 November 17th, 2006 by jules

*{Note: Visit Chicken Spaghetti for this week’s Poetry Friday round-up} . . .

gzonk1.gifFor this Poetry Friday, I’ll briefly mention three new children’s poetry anthologies that are out, but I want to begin with Tony DiTerlizzi’s handsome new picture book, G is for One Gzonk!: An Alpha-number-bet Book, written in rhyming text as a tribute to the nonsensical rhymes of Dr. Seuss and Edward Lear. We meet DiTerlizzi’s alter ego, Tiny DiTerlooney, our young author/illustrator of this book, who tells us to “{s}ay goodbye to boring books/ where ‘bears can bounce a ball’/ and turn the page/ I’ve set the stage/ and nothing makes sense at all,” as he creates his “masterpiece” of an alphabet book. Yes, this is for all of you who have read so many alphabet books that you find yourself immediately wondering what the author could possibly come up with for letters “X” and “Z,” assuming it will be “xylophone” and “zebra” or “zoo.”

So, Tiny, our bespectacled author/illustrator, paints his alphabet of creachlings — his bizarre and fantastic menagerie of rather Seussian creatures — to life as we go along, starting with an Angry Ack and ending with the Zanderiffic Zibble Zook. The creachlings were created with pen and ink and, DiTerlizzi tells us, were colored digitally in order to emulate the spot-printing coloration used in picture books of the ’40s and ’50s. Tiny and the Teedle-Weenie Woo — some wily, bean-shaped creatures with digits on their heads and no other appendages save what I assume are some ears, who interrupt the alphabet recitation to introduce numbers and wreak havoc — were painted in gouache with prismacolor-pencil details. My oh my, did I mention it’s a handsome book? Tiny makes a great effort to defy all conventions of the alphabet book by being as non-conformist as possible: “And grabbing goodies off the floor/ the snooping Bloobytack/ puts every object he can find/ upon his sticky back/ A toy car/ a vase/ a fork/ a watch once owned by me/ And, as you know, not one of these/ begins with letter B.” And the droll hand-printed note next to the illustration of the Bloobytack? “I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not a BOOT, it’s a SHOE. So no B’s here.” As Publishers Weekly points out in their review, the book subtly and slyly lampoons those dated primary school primers with the refined uppercase and lowercase letters at the top of each page, but that’s where anything remotely resembling any other alphabet book you’ve ever seen stops. It’s funny, it’s wonderfully chaotic, and it’s like nothing you’ve seen this year with its whimsical rhymes and demented creachlings. And observant readers will spot the biggest Seuss tribute in the illustration of the Grand Gzonk himself (check out his shadow). And “you could say he is GREEN, but I say he is AVOCADO,” so don’t expect any letters that actually begin with the letter G on that page either.

When the aforementioned Woos show up to enforce their counting, things go haywire. But Tiny makes a bargain with them, and things might or might not turn out well. You’ll have to see for yourself, because this is one pretty book, sure to produce chuckles and chortles amongst the elementary-aged children at which it’s aimed — and some ooohs and aaaaahs amongst the adults around them who will appreciate an attractively-designed book.

* * * * * * * * *

And, not to be forgotten, here are three new poetry anthologies for children . . .

horses-ride-by.jpgPublished in May of this year, I just got my hands on Eloise Greenfield’s When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (for a recent discussion here at Seven Impossible of two of Greenfield and Gilchrist’s other anthologies, go here). This is a collection of poems about children all over the world and at various times in history — from ancient China to the current war in Iraq and many other times and places in between, such as the American Revolutionary War (with the haunting poem, “Papa” — “My papa came home today/ He kissed us and held us/ then closed his eyes/ and sat and sat in silence/ But we will wait, Papa/ We will wait for you to rest from the war”); Vietnam; the two World Wars; the South African protests against apartheid; and several others. These compelling poems are written from the perspective of children, highlighting their perceptions of the war and how it affects their lives. It’s quite moving, and Gilchrist’s collage illustrations (a combination of line-and-wash paintings, charcoal sketches, and photographs) are effectively unsettling in spots, provoking, and inspiring (some more than others, though — there’s still something a bit off when Gilchrist illustrates full-on faces). An essential anthology for elementary students and to commence a thought-provoking discussion of war and peace.

umbrellaphant1.gifJack Prelutsky (my, he’s prolific) presents Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant (and Other Poems), illustrated by Carin Berger. Each poem in this fanciful anthology is about a creature that is part object and part animal, such as “The Bizarre Alarmadillos,” who are “thickly armored/ Yet they’re always in alarm/ When they push their panic buttons/ Buzzers buzz and beepers beep/ Brass alarms clang ever louder/ It’s no wonder they can’t sleep/ Then they flail their tails in terror/ As they holler and they whoop –/ Yes, those four ALARMADILLOS/ Are an odd and noisy group.” Prelutsky’s wordplay is energetic and original, but what stands out are Berger’s collages done with cut-print media, old-fashioned print images, and a variety of paper textures. Playful and unpredictable, they are a spot-on match for the whimsical poems.

etiquette.gifFinally (and as mentioned here in a recent Poetry Friday entry at Book Buds), you gotta dig David Greenberg’s terrifically subversive Don’t Forget Your Etiquette! The Essential Guide to Misbehavior, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. Let Miss Information help your children learn the modern rules for behavior. This one will get lots of giggles with such etiquette advice as “{w}hen you shake hands with the principal/ It’s debonair and funny/ To reach inside his pocket/ For tissues (or some money).” But, I have to say, my favorite entry — entitled “The Etiquette of Quiet Places” — offers up a nice-‘n-healthy dose of rebellious insurgency and, actually, presents a rather biting commentary on how children are often treated. Here’s but an excerpt:

Do not blink your eyes,
For that will make a noise.
Don’t dare to even think —
The sound of thought annoys.

Basically, shut up.
At least that’s my belief.
Make yourself as quiet
As a gently falling leaf.

Then folks will think you’re dead —
They’ll contact 9-1-1.
“Does the child have a heartbeat?”
The frantic answer: “None!”

Your saviors will rush in
More raucous than a riot
And that’s when you should stand
And loudly holler, “QUIET!”

Westcott’s illustrations, done in watercolors and ink and full of mischief, are — as par for the course with her — flat-out silly and animated. This one’s fun and delightfully perversive and will have your elementary-aged children squealing (and for anyone whose hackles are, by chance, raised right now, don’t fret. The wee ones will still learn about etiquette — just indirectly and without having it thrown in their faces, and isn’t that how we would all rather learn? In fact, some of the entries begin with quotes from Miss Emily Post and Miss Manners themselves — even dutifully credited in the back of the book — for a nice contrast and amusing set-up for the gleeful sucker punch to
The Rules that these poems are).

2 comments to “Poetry Friday: DiTerlizzi’s Creachlings
and Three New Anthologies”

  1. I have been wrestling with my feelings over the DiTerlizzi book for weeks now. Not that anyone else has been waiting for my opinion, but the book rubbed me the wrong way, and it’s all in the text.

    I think it’s fine to poke fun at those old alphabet books but when DiTerlizzi dedicated the book to Seuss and Edward Lear I felt he set the bar pretty high for my expectations. Lear as a master of nonsense is easier to match, but Seuss was a master of meter and a natural when it came to his narrative flow and I think DiTerlizzi missed it by a mile.

    The mix of illustrations — the flat duotones of the creatures versus the full-color of the boy artist — had me longing for books that were bolder in their simplicity. The illustrations *do* look like they came from different books, and my preference would have been for a clever book that utilized only those flat tones.

    That kids enjoy it *should* be the bottom line, and as you point out they apparently do enjoy this book. Still…

  2. i’m glad you spoke up, elzey! i admit that i wrestled, too. at first i wasn’t sure about the book, but after repeated readings (that i kinda couldn’t help, ’cause my 2 and 1/2 year old is fascinated by it — also a bit scared-fascinated, i think, which is fine, as in scared by some of those creachlings. it’s too sophisticated for that age, but she gets some levels of meaning)….anyway, after repeated readings, as i was saying, it has grown on me. i see your point about the illustrations, and it certainly would be interesting if it were all done in those flat tones. thanks for commenting….

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