The organizing theme of the book is so appealing: which animals eat which animals (and plants) and how. Delve into more than two dozen animal examples told in short, generally free verse poems accompanied by clever cartoon portraits (by illustrator David Clark) that manage to be both helpful and zany. The collection is bookended by theme poems, “What’s for Dinner” and “Eating Words” with 29 clever, succinct, and highly visual poems in a variety of formats in between. The occasional consonance and rhyme are spot on and scan nicely and unexpected syncopations mix up the rhythms here and there to nice effect.
Seldom has the food chain received such red carpet poetical treatment with unexpected examples of the relationships between predator and prey. Consider the hawk couple whose courtship includes tossing a snake between them or the brown bat that forms a bowl by curving its tail to eat insects like popcorn. Some poems even reveal the connections between multiple participants in the “Food Chain”:
[BTW: This is NOT the illustration for this poem, but I needed to capture the alignment for the poem, so I resorted to making the slide above.]
Kids will love discovering how crows and wolves help each other eat, how slugs stop other creatures from eating them, four ways polar bears catch seals, and my personal favorite, how “hundreds of beetles and moths” live on the back of the sloth, jumping off his back “on the weekly occasion of Sloth’s defecation” to “lay their eggs on his dung/ with its sugar and starch/ that will nourish their young.” Then, they “jump back onto the back of the Sloth” for another week til the process is repeated. The poem ends, “Quite a menagerie,/feeding in harmony” an excellent summary for the entire book! The combination of true and fascinating facts, the focus on EATING, and occasional references to poop and its necessary place in the food chain are all sure to grab young readers.
As an added plus, teachers and librarians will be pleased to find that the poems are examples of symbiosis, mutualism, parasitism, and other science concepts, all briefly explained in a clear and helpful section, “More Words About the Poems.” Other useful backmatter includes an information-rich paragraph to accompany each poem in an extensive “More Words About the Animals,” plus a bibliography of “Where to Learn More About the Animals in This Book.”
As a former sixth grade teacher (where kids enjoy a bit of the macabre, especially based on fact), I would share a poem just before a snack or lunch break—kids would eat that up! :-) And they’ll definitely want to do more research to see “is that really true?” Follow up with more related poetry, such as:
- Bulion, Leslie. 2006. Hey There, Stink Bug! Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
- Florian, Douglas. 1998. Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings. San Diego: Harcourt.
- Florian, Douglas. 1996. On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings. San Diego: Harcourt.
- George, Kristine O’Connell. 2004. Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems. Orlando: Harcourt.
- Harley, Avis. 2001. Leap into Poetry: More ABCs of Poetry. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
- Lewis, J. Patrick, 1998. The Little Buggers. New York: Dial.
- Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. By Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. Ill. by Becky Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Singer, Marilyn. 1989. Turtle in July. New York: Macmillan.
Don't forget to join the throng at Poetry Friday hosted by Dori Reads.
Image credit: Charlesbridge
Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.