Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Familiar But Not So Familiar...

I can hear it as if it was yesterday; William Shatner's voice booming out from the television screen.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

By definition space is the final frontier.

an outer limit in a field of endeavor, especially one in which the opportunities for research and development have not been exploited (Dictionary.com)

In my way of thinking there is yet another unexplored realm whose boundaries will be out of reach for many, many years; the mysterious realm of the human imagination.

A perfect example of the every-changing landscape of creativity is poetry; to be specific the poetry of  Jack Prelutsky, Poetry Foundation's Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2008. In his 2013 title, Stardines Swim High Across The Sky and other poems (Greenwillow Books) he has recently returned from parts unknown with a collection of creatures.  His narrative about these unusual beings are cleverly illustrated by Carin Berger.

STARDINES swim high across the sky,
And brightly shine as they glide by.
In giant schools, their brilliant lights
Illuminate the darkest nights. ...

Of the twenty-four specimens accompanying Mr. Prelutsky on his return we are informed of only a portion.  A contents section lists sixteen odd names whose characteristics, habits and activities are disclosed in a collection of poems.  It appears each is an unlikely combination of two words, creating beings of the utmost quirkiness.

Within the pages of this book we find not only the result of matching stars and sardines but of bluffs with buffaloes, chores with cormorants, fountains with mountains lions and plans with pandas.  It is not unusual to read about the joyous Jollyfish, the annoying Magpipes, the brilliant Braindeer or the picky Panteater.  Who knew about the peculiar feline shedding tears all day every day?

Using two different patterns, variations on rhyming schemes, Jack Prelutsky introduces, educates and entertains.  For each poem the features of the two individually are blended and enhanced, through what can only be described as sumptuous vocabulary, to give us a very distinct picture.  When read aloud they roll off your tongue with a toe-tapping beat.

According to the verso, the miniature dioramas in this book are assemblages created using a combination of cut paper, found ephemera, vintage engravings (which were scanned, manipulated in Photoshop, and then printed out), beeswax, wire, thread, and wood.  Once each piece was made, it was then photographed digitally to prepare the full-color art.  Carin Berger begins with elements from the book to piece together the front and back jacket.  When the jacket is removed the cover is a replica of a wooden shadow box, smooth with beautiful grains, labels carefully positioned to hold the title, author and illustrator text.

The opening and closing endpapers use various types of graph or composition paper as a background for items used to make each diorama; scissors, tweezers, exacto knife, tiny paint brush, rivets, pins, tacks, glue and labels.  The two page spreads for each creature is like going through a natural history museum; no detail is left to chance.  All have a phonetic spelling of the name strategically placed on one of the pages.  Many of the animals have identifying labels as part of the design more than once.

Each picture playfully matches with equal inventiveness the corresponding poem.  For the Fountain Lion Berger pictures the lion standing in water an elaborate fountain atop its head, water cascading down.  For that added sense of fun she has one paw extended holding a pail to catch the water.  Words like intricate, artistic, painstaking come to mind when viewing each.

Stardines Swim High Across The Sky and other poems written by Jack Prelutsky with illustrations by Carin Berger is an impressive collaboration.  A collection of poems featuring creatures from an ever-changing final frontier such as these will intrigue listeners, invite fabrication and inspection and delight for their sheer absurdity.  For a peek at more of the book head to the publisher site linked here. Carin Berger was interviewed at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast several years ago but the discussion remains relevant. (link here)  Links to the author and illustrator official websites are embedded in their names above.


  1. "Stardines" -- so very clever! Hadn't heard of this one before. Thanks for the wonderful observations and insights.:)

    1. You're welcome, Jama. With your love of poetry, you will really like this. Prelutsky has never been better and Berger's artwork is spectacular, so meticulous.