Hungry to pique young readers’ interest in the world outside their doors, New Mexico poet Katherine Hauth teams up with illustrator David Clark to offer 29 delectably light, informative and slightly twisted poetic explorations of curious eating behaviors in the animal kingdom in What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World.
With an unlikely menagerie ranging from baby wasps to polar bears and the spinning phalarope, Hauth boils down the quest for supper to a simple maxim any child can appreciate: “finding food / is not a joke. / Living things must eat / or croak,” and Clark’s hilarious ink-and-watercolor illustrations add a delicious layer of wit to Hauth’s engaging looks at the natural world. Kirkus caught up with Hauth, anxious to learn what possessed her to investigate such an unusual and, at times, unsavory topic.
See more books that combine poetry with natural history for kids.
So were you a biology major?
I was an English major with biology and education minors. I spent a lot of my time as a child in a vacant lot, just observing stuff down there that was wild. That came naturally at an early age. I’m back in my vacant lot again and 8 or 10 years old when I see nature, so I’m sort of writing for that kid in my heart. But this is not the nature I grew up reading about, which was all sweet and pretty. What brought me to nature originally was curiosity, but also the beauty and fascination of it—it’s all wrapped together for me.
Why did you choose to tackle this rather scientific subject in poetry as opposed to prose?
I really like brief writing that gets it, and poetry is that. I like short stories, too. When we came to New Mexico, we moved to 60 acres in ranch land surrounded by hundreds of other acres. Out there, without city interruptions and the sounds and all the artificial things that we get used to living with, I just started feeling the patterns of nature, the sounds of the onomatopoeia, the hyperbole, if you will, of floods and droughts. And the longer I was there, the more it seemed to call to be written about poetically. When I began that, then a lot of things, even what one would consider non-poetic subjects, started coming out that way.
You say that “much of the world’s dining is done on dung.” How did you arrive at that slightly disturbing thought, and aren’t you afraid that kids might get grossed out by it and images like dermestid beetle larvae gnawing the flesh off a skull or vibrantly colored roadkill?
Well, that’s one statement among many, and there are kids who are going to be fascinated by it. One of the things with the grossness in this is that it may actually draw boys and some reluctant readers in. Now I didn’t write about these topics for that; it’s just one of those facts, and that’s the way it came out. But look at all of Africa, for instance: if it weren’t for the dung beetles and all the other critters out there, we’d be—[laughs]—deep in it. And so it’s just amazing how nature recycles.
What do you hope children take from this?
I hope they get curious. I hope they get curious to make their own observations, to realize that a lot of this stuff is right under their feet in their neighborhood and to look more at it. I don’t want to talk about how we’re losing vacant lots, but I want to help them connect with something that will make them want to find a vacant lot, or go to a park and get away from the headphones and look at something.
So what does rattlesnake taste like?
Mmmm…it tastes sort of like chicken—with the consistency of clam because it’s all muscle.
Did you enjoy it?
I enjoyed it as an experience. I wouldn’t go out and catch my next rattlesnake because it’s the best thing to eat, but I now know if it was the only thing to eat that I certainly could!
Enjoy poetry month at Kirkus, as we profile a new poet each week, representing children's and teen books.