Tuesday, November 20, 2007

review: Thanksgiving Poems

Thanksgiving Poems selected by Myra Cohn Livingston. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Holiday House, 1985 (0-8234-0570-2)

This title is out of print, which doesn't surprise me too much, because the illustrations have not worn well. But there are such wonderful poems here, many of which were commissioned especially for this book, that it's worth it to search out a copy.

Thanksgiving Poems covers many aspects of Thanksgiving, excluding historical/political controversy. There are harvest poems from an Osage and a Navajo Indian, a selection from the Bible ("Make a Joyful Noise Onto the Lord") and comic poems about overeating from poets like X. J. Kennedy and Jane Yolen. I was most captivated by the poems that concentrate on joy and gratitude, such as the lyrical wordplay of the poem "Giving Thanks Giving Thanks" by Eve Merriam; this is the second paragraph:

giving thanks giving thanks
for cows and cowslips
eggs and eggplants
stars and starlings
dogs and dogwood

And I was blown away by the simple beauty and sincerity of a poem of thanksgiving by Emanuel di Pasquale, which begins:

I pull a baby crab
off a seaweed-rich rock
and let it run on my hands,
and I see God. I see God
in millions of lights
dancing in the sea and air.

It's a shame that the illustrations, largely black & white drawings with splotches of muted, unattractive colors, have lost so much freshness, seeming tired and dated. I would so love to see this otherwise superb collection reillustrated; even a fresh printing might revitalize it. (4 & up)

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Speak now or forever hold your peace.

Nominations for the Cybils close tomorrow night.


review: Alligator Arrived with Apples

Alligator Arrived with Apples: a Potluck Alphabet Feast by Crescent Dragonwagon. illustrated by Jose Aruego & Ariane Dewey. 1987; Aladdin, 1992 (978-0-6897-1613-3) $6.99 pb

"A feast for you/a feast for me/A feast that goes from A to Z!" To celebrate Thanksgiving, Pig and Pig II have set the table for an entire alphabet of animal guests, all of whom bring goodies for the vegetarian feast. (Turkey is a guest, rather than the main course.)

Starting with some rather labored verse--"A feast for us/and several guests/A feasting full Thanksgiving fest!"--this book thankfully moves quickly to an alliterative alphabet section, from Alligator Arriving with Apples and Allspice, to Zebra Zipping over with a Zaftig Zucchini. Each animal comes in a different vehicle: Cat looks especially cool swooping in on a hang glider, while Orangutan's broken leg has him in a wheelchair. And after each arrival, Pig and Pig II and the other guests have fun cavorting with the newcomers, sliding down Elephant's trunk and enjoying the juggling of a Jackal from Jerusalem.

There are some textual oddities here that will annoy readers who like strong consistency. A few of the animal aren't named, so you have to check the name cards on the set table at the beginning of the book to identify "Numbat" and "Quetzal." There's no animal (or food) for "X," which isn't too surprising, but also none for "R," which is inexplicable. The very bright and animated illustrations make up for a lot, however, filled with lively scenes to explore. Aruego and Dewey use their usual brightly glowing watercolors, but put the complicated action scenes against simple backdrops, giving a light, airy look that suits the snappy text. (2-6)

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