Friday, April 29

Cousins of Clouds

Elephant Poems 
by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer 
illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy 
Clarion House / Houghton Mifflin  2011 

A collection of poetic ruminations on pachyderms coupled with informational bits that might work on multiple levels for older and younger audiences.   

The second largest mammals on the planet get the poetic treatment from a variety of perspectives that describe and explain as much as they meditate and drift.  Each poem includes a bit of non-fiction that informs the reader separate from the poem's language and intent, with illustrations that underscores the many facets of elephants. 

One particular spread covers the bases here.  One one page we get "Ivory:"

Excuse me?
You want what?
Two of my teeth? I think not!
Find another souvenir.
My enemy is drawing near~
my calf and I must disappear.

This is accompanied on the same page a line drawing of an elephant drawn on top of collaged brown paper that gives the animal shades of character as it stares the reader down.  Beneath is an explanation of how elephants were once hunted for their ivory and how a boycott on ivory sales was instituted in 1989.  On the facing page we get another poem, "Mud Spa:"  


Completely divine,
muddy chocolate sublime
splattered onto my skin–
better yet, I'll dive in.

The playful poem, and equally playful illustration, gives us an image we have seen before, but the accompanying sidebar text explains how elephant skins are sensitive to sunburn and insect bites, making the mud bath more of an essential element of survival more than playtime.  In these two pages we get a range of information and imagery that paints a concise picture of elephants in a way dry text could not.  

This is what made me think about how this book -- reformatted, and slightly modified -- would work equally well with an audience older than what we would normally consider for picture books.  I know there are older readers, including teens, who don't have problems reading picture books, but there are as many if not more who would find the poems and information appealing if presented differently.   

Not to suggest there's anything wrong with the collection as it is, no, no.  In fact, I'd like to see more like this, books with a melding of fiction (and poetry) among the non-fiction.  The reader with a preference for one will end up reading the other and reaping the benefits. 

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