After Dark / A Hatful of Dragons

After Dark
David L. Harrison, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Wordsong (Boyds Mills & Kane)

Poet David Harrison has chosen twenty-one nocturnal creatures large and small with which to populate his book of poems. There are insects, arachnids, amphibians, birds, fish and mammals; and as the poet is from the USA, some may be unfamiliar to readers in the UK. Nonetheless his descriptions are fascinating and closely observed while being presented in a variety of poetic forms mostly unrhymed.

So, let’s meet some of these fauna: first coyotes in The Hunt Is On:
Shhh, listen … / Hear that howling? / Out there in the dark? / Dogs don’t howl, / not like that. // They’re on the hunt. / Better take warning – / Be you mouse or deer, be watchful. / Coyotes are near.

Here’s one about the Luna Moth that uses rhyme; it’s called The Queen:
Like regal monarch of the night / or fairy in the airy light, / richly robed in ermine white, / winged in velvet royal green. // Suitors you have never seen / find you here in words serene. / You’ve much to do before the dawn / so when your fleeting life is gone, / future queens can carry on.

Each animal is realistically captured in Stephanie Laberis’ vivid digital, illustrations and there’s a final spread providing additional factual information about each of the animals so graphically described in Harrison’s riveting poetry.

This book will surely encourage readers to go outside in the dark, observe with all their senses, and perhaps, put pen to paper.

A Hatful of Dragons
Vikram Madan
Wordsong

Vikram Madan’s collection of poems is deliciously daft and embraces a wide range of topics from time machines to twins and their tins, and taxis to tubas.

There are some recurring themes and characters – dragons being a notable example – while each of the rhymes, (which take a wide variety of forms), is hilariously illustrated in offbeat style by the poet himself who, by his own account, has since boyhood had a love of creating cartoons.

It’s pretty near impossible to pick favourites but on this day a couple that particularly tickled my fancy are Permanent Guests (ten aliens and a garden gnome) that have taken up residence in the poet’s shoe – here’s the final throwaway line …

… Except my foot’s still in my shoe

and The Helpful Pet with this opening verse:
We are sitting in a wrangle / Of a knotty, twelve-limbed tangle – / Where we’re starting, where we’re ending / Is a puzzle through and through.

Who wouldn’t want to check out the veracity of the poet”s claim in the sub-title by turning to 13,841,287,201* Nonsense Poems in One! – err, how long have you got? This mad offering contains 12 numbered blanks and a dozen lists each of seven items to insert wherever you feel like.

Now I for one am NOT going to do the maths. I’d rather chortle my way through the other poems or find a class of primary children to introduce to the delights herein. It’s just the kind of book that even those who claim not to like poetry might well change their minds after hearing a couple from Vikram Madan’s gloriously gigglesome gallimaufry.

Musical Mac / Just So Willow

Musical Mac
Brendan Kearney
Sterling

Here we have a solo offering from the illustrative half of the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series.

Millipede Mac loves to play music but the thought of competing solo in the Soggy Bog Talent Show fills him with fear.

To get round this he decides to join a band, so packing up his numerous instruments he sets out in search of a suitable one.

He tries his luck with several rehearsing groups – a tiny antennae orchestra, a band of alleycats, he plays guitar with frogs and drums with dogs but despite his talents none of the bands will take him on.

After a too close for comfort encounter with a bird choir, Mac is so thoroughly frightened that he dashes right on to the stage of the talent show – all alone.

Can he – with a bit of encouragement from the other bands he’s met on his way – summon up the courage to give it a go? He certainly has plenty of instruments …

Full of zany detail. Brendan Kearney’s illustrations provide plenty to pore over and the scattering of alliterative phrases adds interest to the text.

Just So Willow
Sara F. Shacter and Stephanie Laberis
Sterling

Bear cub, Willow, is fanatically finicky even ironing her underwear and unscrambling her spaghetti.

When a snowstorm covers her backyard one morning, Willow is delighted at its perfection and is determined to keep it just so. But then a stray snowball tossed by one of the children playing close by is deemed to be the start of her perfect space being turned into a ‘lumpy, bumpy mess’ Willow just has to stop them. But how?

Shouting doesn’t work as she can’t get close enough despite some athletic efforts, but the little bear just keeps on trying.

Eventually she accidentally toboggans into the centre of the group of frolickers creating a perfect ‘crisp white ribbon around the yard.

Then it’s time to discover the possibilities of different kinds of perfect and a whole lot of fun with friends too perhaps …

It’s evident that author Sara Shacter understands children like Willow (I love all the playful language) and illustrator Stephanie Laberis goes to town with the characters’ expressions especially those of Willow in her comical scenes.

A fun story about stepping outside your comfort zone and risk taking.

Animal vs Animal Who’s the Strongest? / Like a Lizard

Animal vs Animal Who’s the Strongest?
Kirsty Holmes
BookLife

Welcome to the ‘Great and Small Games’. Essentially this show (it’s one of a series) comprises three strength events: The Tree Trunk Lift; Strong Bug Circus and Tug of War, each of which is refereed by a flag-waving racoon.

The participants are, for the bug event, dung beetle and leafcutter ant; silverback gorilla and grizzly Bear are the tree lifters;


while in the third round, an African elephant and a musk ox tug it out.

Two spreads are devoted to each pair of contenders and as the animals are introduced and perform, snippets of factual information surrounds them on banners or in bubbles,

but it’s never overwhelming thanks to the design of the pages.

A fun way to learn some animal facts, this book should pack a powerful punch with younger readers.

Like a Lizard
April Pulley Sayre and Stephanie Laberis
Boyds Mills Press

Let’s get physical and in so doing, through Sayre’s playful rhythmic text and Laberis’ expressive digital art, learn about more than 25 different lizards and some of the things they do.

So, for instance, ‘Could you drape like a lizard? / Gape like a lizard? / Do a push-up like a lizard? Scale sticks? / Curl in like a lizard?’

Each of the lizards featured is labelled with its common name and described after the main text, in a paragraph below the named behaviour illustrated in the narrative. Every paragraph provides factual information – Latin name, where in the world it’s usually found, length and other interesting details specific to the creature.

So, after an initial read aloud, can your little ones behave like lizards as you share this engaging book? They’ll certainly have fun trying and learn some herpetological facts in so doing. I wonder what they might do in response to this  …