U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis clearly had a lot of fun compiling the poems for the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, released in September. This book is a beauty with its sleek and unfussy design and its vivid, full-color photographs.
And it’s a must-have for children, elementary and middle school classrooms, and libraries.
“Have you ever thought about a day in the life of a giraffe, a porcupine, a whale, or a snail?” Lewis asks in the book’s brief introduction. The creators of the poems collected for this volume, he writes, strive to imagine the secret lives of animals.
Dividing the book into nine sections (from five short poems about birth, to four final poems about animals and taking care of Mother Earth, and seven sections in between), Lewis highlights a wide variety of poetry, such as haikus, concrete poetry, free verse and more. To boot, there’s a lullaby from Rudyard Kipling.
He also covers contemporary poets—Betsy Franco, Naomi Shihab Nye, Douglas Florian, Joyce Sidman, Arnold Adoff, Julie Larios—as well as those long gone, such as Hilaire Belloc, Christina Georgina Rossetti, Walter de la Mare and D.H. Lawrence. To my great delight, Lewis even chose to include lyrics from Huddie Ledbetter, aka Lead Belly.
Even with these high-caliber poems chosen by the country’s reigning Children’s Poet Laureate, I dare say the real star of the show here are the photographs. “[This] may be the most beautiful poetry book of my entire career,” Lewis has said. (The man’s penned more than 75 books for children in his career, so that’s saying a lot.) After he anthologized 200 of his favorite poems about animals, the senior photography editor at National Geographic Society paired each poem with a photo. The National Geographic art director then got to work on designing it all.
And it explodes with color and energy. There are some breathtaking photos in here. The section called “The Winged Ones” includes photos that will take away the breath of even the most hard-hearted or unobservant person of the world, each sharp image labeled in unobtrusive text with the name of the animal.
There’s humor, particularly in the segment called “The Noisy Ones”: Imagine a common rooster staring you straight in the face, along with Tang Yin’s poem, “A Picture of the Rooster.” There’s grace in the form of a leaping Cottontail Rabbit, accompanied by Mary Ann Hoberman’s poem, “Rabbit.” (“A rabbit / bit / A little bit / An itty-bitty / Little bit of beet.”) There’s a little bit of terror in a commanding image of a Day Octopus, offset with some humor by a poem by Ogden Nash. And there’s a heaping dose of mystery, as in Elizabeth Madox Roberts’ “Firefly: A Song,” paired with a magical photo of fireflies in the woods: “A little light is going by, / Is going up to see the sky, / A little light with wings.”
And there’s much more.
Lewis closes with a section on writing animal poems, as well as a list of resources and indices for titles, poets, first lines, and subjects.
A visual feast, this handsomely-designed anthology is definitely a keeper.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK OF ANIMAL POETRY. Text copyright © 2012 by J. Patrick Lewis. Spread reproduced by permission of the publisher, the National Geographic Society.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.