Every day a signal is given; a call to action. You may not be aware but you can and need to adjust your perceptions. It might be in the song of a black-capped chickadee, the tracks of a white-tailed deer encased in mud or a footfall crackling leaves and twigs in the underbrush. No matter where humans call home, it is shared by a multitude of beings in the animal kingdom. We should recognize them, realizing without our help their numbers will continue to diminish. Every one lost makes this world, our planet, less than it was.
We are connected to all of them as members of a huge collective family. Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World In Poetry And Pictures (National Geographic, February 14, 2017) photographs by Joel Sartore and words by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido is a moving and memorable tribute to our animal companions. It is a collaborative labor of love.
chorus of creatures
singing our names
see what we can save---together
Through the selected words, like Mother Nature's heartbeat, we are asked to look into the soul of her children through their eyes, in the color of their feathers or how they move. We are asked to appreciate their homes, fixed or mobile. We are asked to understand their cleverness in surviving.
Sometimes the noise they make is loud like Asian elephants walking or so quiet as to be nearly silent like an Andrew beach mouse running. Animals can dance and sing, fly like a superhero or be as still as stone. They can be beautiful and deadly to prey and humans or simply, uniquely beautiful.
Their stunning hues shimmer in the sea or glisten on land sometimes changing for protection. Wolves howl alone or in a chorus. Have you heard them?
The animal babies born are a sign of hope and a chance to do what is right. After they grow we can see their more than one hundred feet or the warning tattoos of red like on the Southern black widow spider or their roar like the critically endangered Malayan tiger. We need them all. They all, every single one, need us.
Whether read silently or aloud the words penned by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido resonate, speaking directly to our conscience and our sensory impressions. Each line, each poem, creates a thoughtful link with the featured creature. The cadence supplied using Japanese haiku focuses our attention on the singular characteristics of each one. Here is another poem above a row of Ploughshare tortoises.
homes of courage
on humble backs
this is not a race
Throughout this title photographer Joel Sartore uses a crisp white or velvet black background to showcase the animals. In his own words he states:
In Photo Ark every creature is equal. I use simple black and white backgrounds, which make all animals appear to be the same size, no matter how large or small they might be in the wild.
Who can resist the facial expression of the brown-throated sloth on the front of the dust jacket with the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly dotting the i? To the left, on the back, an equally-happy appearing chimpanzee is shown. On the book case front a red celestial eye goldfish is looking right at readers while on the back a quokka looks like he is laughing. The opening and closing endpapers share the same shade as the text Ark.
Alternating between black on the first seven pages and white on the next four pages Sartore first showcases a cream-spotted tigerwing butterfly chrysalis and Gulf fritillary butterfly on the title page followed by a two-page gatefold highlighting twenty-nine animals opposite the opening lines of poetry. When that gatefold is closed we are privy to eight stunning butterflies. Each animal is given a single page or two showing us their entire body or a significant portion in the remainder of the book.
In the center is a four-page gatefold presenting thirty-three animals group on the two outer pages with a melodious lengthier poem on the inner two pages. These collages of animal portraits, as are all the pictures, are stunning. The closing of this gatefold reveals two resting blue waxbills. To see them in the wild would be unforgettable.
One of my favorite of many photographs is of the waxy monkey frog. Sartore has captured this frog in mid leap or ready to leap with the right rear leg raised. You wouldn't know it to look at this picture but they only grow to be two to three inches long. He brings us close enough to see the spread toes, spots on the belly and intricate details in the eyes.
All the creators desire to have readers notice these animals in a new light, bringing us close to their importance in the grand scheme of life on this planet. Joel Sartore and Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido have accomplished this mission in Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World In Poetry And Pictures. At the close of the title a page is dedicated to A Note From the Photographer and A Note From the Writer. A small captioned box within this second note speaks about haiku. A final gatefold names all the animals shown on the dust jacket, book case, flap and interior pages other than those named in previous gatefolds.
To learn more about Joel Sartore, Kwame Alexander, Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. At a publisher's website you can view some interior pages. A page at National Geographic Kids with links and videos is dedicated to the Animal Ark project and this book. Enjoy Kwame Alexander reading the long poem taken from the center of the book.
Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures from cosproductions on Vimeo.