Saturday, September 17, 2005

Omnibeasts and Insectlopedia

Poet/Illustrator Douglas Florian has written and illustrated a good many poetry collections, and I can hardly wait to read them all. We are currently borrowing--and thoroughly enjoying--two of his books from our library: Omnibeasts and Insectlopedia. This afternoon my son and I sat side by side reading, each animal poem inspiring him to act out a lively immitation. (Who knew that reading was a good form of exercise?)

Both books feature a full page illustration for each insect or animal, with its highly entertaining and descriptive poem on the page opposite. I fell in love with the playful poetry in both books. Words are almost acrobatic, leaping from line to line with alliteration and other fancy poetry tricks I couldn't put a name to. Overall, they just have great read-aloud quality. Florian's illustrative style is distinct and earthy; lots of texture and warm, striking colors. He has a knack for highlighting parts of the poems with his artwork, capturing the mood and humor of each poem and critter, not just a physical likeness.

One thing that stands out about Omnibeastsis the selection of, well, beasts. Which is to say that there are a wide and wild range of them, including a boar, newt, jaguarundi, ocelot, vulture, walrus, and various species of insects. My favorite poem was "The Glass Frog", for it's sheer sense of humor:

Upon a tree
It's hard to see
Which part is leaf
And which is me
Which part is me
And which is leaf
I've lost myself again--
Good grief!

Generally speaking, I'm not into bugs--or books about them. But Insectlopedia is appealing to even the bug-reluctant. I was pulled in by Florian's unique way of looking at and describing the insects... part humor, part information, part fun with words. The illustrations are rich and engaging, and the bugs are full of personality. The squeamish will appreciate that, while realistic, the bugs aren't so detailed as to evoke a shudder or the desire to arm yourself with a shoe.

The typeography also adds to the visual appeal (this is true of Omnibeasts as well as Insectlopedia). The words move around the pages where it works for their descriptees. For example, the text for the poem The Inchworm creeps up and down the page, taking on a distinct inchworm shape. "The Inchworm" also happens to be another humorous selection:
I inch, I arch, I march along. I'm just a pinch, a mere inch long. I stroll and stick on sticks in thickets, and never pick up speeding tickets.

Douglas Florian has a sure spot on my list of favorite children's authors/poets.