Welcome to Poetropia, an arena for discussion about children's poetry, specially designed for my graduate Special Topics (LS 5903 Section 22) at Texas Woman's University. Please feel free to visit as often as you like and to give me your reactions to my reactions of the poems and poetry collections I'll share here throughout the Spring 2007 semester. Thank you for your visit. You can leave the door ajar for the next visitor as you leave. Happy reading!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Poetry Book Review Five: Favorite Book of Poetry (published since 2000)

Prelutsky, Jack. (2006). Illustrated by Carin Berger. Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and other poems. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN 0060543183.

I LOVE Jack Prelutsky. He’s quirky. He’s crazy. He’s creative. And his poetry ALWAYS has great rhythm and tongue-twistery rhymes. Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is no exception. It’s a collection of seventeen poems about creatures who are hybrids made up of ordinary everyday objects and various animals—as the title implies, the first poem is about an umbrellaphant. Other interesting creatures within are Ballpoint Penguins, Panthermometer, a Clocktopus, and a Solitary Spatuloon! True to his form, the rhymes are zany and wonderfully melodic and even though they are meant to be silly, they are SERIOUSLY convincing—and oh so creative! Another thing I’ve always liked about Prelutsky’s collections is that he always seems to be paired up with artists as crazy as his rhymes seem to be. Carin Berger is another name to add to this list. The illustrations in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant uses a sort of strategically organized collage art to make the amazing creatures come to life on the page with snippets of newsprint and many other textures.

Of all the weird species presented in this collection, my favorite one (today, at least) would have to be the alarmadillo. Check this out:

The Bizarre Alarmadillos

Are a clamorous quartet,
For they’re in a constant frenzy…
They’re incessantly upset.
You’d imagine they’d be calmer,
No one means them any harm,
And besides, they’re thickly armoured,
Yet they’r 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.

These silly creatures are hilarious! Who other than Prelutsky could come up with a cross between an alarm clock and an armadillo? And who else could wind such an interesting yarn with simple yet sophisticated vocabulary not to mention the great sounding alliteration? Just look at “clamorous quartet” and “frenzy.” What about “flail their tails in terror?” Awesome! He even sticks with the Texas/Southwestern theme by adding the “they holler and they whoop” just as any cowboy might (this is also echoed by Berger’s illustrations of the Alarmadillos with their cowboy-type hats and their boots).

Reviews of Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant (per Amazon.com):

Booklist: “Like the scrambled animals and vegetables that populated Scranimals (2002), the creatures featured in Prelutsky's latest picture-book verse collection are a wildly imagined crew… Kids may need help puzzling out some of the combinations (the spatuloon, for example), and the concept and poetry in a few selections, such as "The Tearful Zipperpotamuses," feel somewhat forced. In most poems, though, Prelutsky's wordplay is inventive, as are Berger's stylishly retro, photo and cut-paper collages, which extend the wild silliness. Elementary teachers may want to borrow the book's concept and use it, along with Scranimals, in poetry and art exercises that inspire new combinations of creatures.”

School Library Journal: “Prelutsky is one of the best word crafters in the business, and this collection does not disappoint. The poems are full of fun and wit, with wordplay and meter that never miss a beat. The whimsical illustrations use cut-print media, old-fashioned print images, and a variety of paper textures to create a rich visual treat well suited to the poetry. The detail in the mixed-media pictures makes this a good choice for individual or lap reading, but the poetry begs to be read aloud. This is definitely a do not miss poetry pick.”

I can’t imagine anyone of ANY age not LOVING a Jack Prelutsky poem or poetry collection, so I think this book could be used from as young as Pre-K straight through college. Of course, folks of all ages could be allowed to come up with their own strange object-animal combinations and be encouraged to write poems about them. It would be interesting to see how the creations of different age groups would compare/contrast. As a side project, children could be encouraged to follow Berger’s example and make cut-and-paste, mixed-media illustrations of their creations. For that matter, classes could put together their own zany creatures book complete with original artwork!


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