Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

To Nap Or Not To Nap

It's curious to see how life circles back around.  As a child the only thing eclipsing resistance to bedtime would be the dreaded afternoon nap.  Nowadays curling up in a cozy chair, underneath a comfy blanket, in the sun reading a book and not worrying about drifting off to sleep, seems like a perfectly good option.

In some cultures a mid-day snooze is completely acceptable whether due to climate or practiced traditions.  We need only look to our primate relatives living in the rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra to understand the value of short snatches of sleep in the animal kingdom, too.  Orangutanka:  A Story in Poems (Henry Holt and Company, March 24, 2015) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Renee Kurilla is a cheerful nod to naps and to rest rebels.

cozy morning
baby orangutan cuddles
with mama
in their leafy nest
while a breeze sways green trees

The two siblings are ready to move but their mother is perfectly content to snooze.  On a lower level the father rests on branches able to bear his weight.  Handy vines assist the older sister in her airborne antics.

Rangers have piled delectable fruit treats for the family, enticing them from the treetops.  A hand is extended. A tasty pineapple is enjoyed.  Carried on mama's back, baby watches, eyes alight with wonder.

Appetite satisfied, the slumbering family does not see sister slip away.  A beat inside won't let her sleep.  This girl is taking a chance to satisfy her need to dance.

It happens someone does notice the jiving gymnast.  An unforeseen rain shower finds her surrounded by men, women and children.  Suddenly shy, the dancing stops.

An elder with an open eye decides to dodge the drops.  The duo, reunited in their desire, lift arms and stomp feet.  Sun shines on a new troupe.

In an opening note, Margarita Engle explains to readers the poetic form, tanka, she uses to tell this story.  Consisting of five lines, she adheres to the modern writing of short, long, short, long, long rather than an actual syllable count.  Her word selections describing the family reflect personal observations of orangutans while visiting the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre in Sarawak, Malaysia.  She writes as if speaking to us in conversation but heightens the fun with alliteration and rhyming. Here is another sample poem.

in afternoon heat
sly, mischievous big sister
sneaks all the way down
from an enormous tree's height
to explore the forest floor

You just know a whole lot of happy is going to be happening in this book as soon as you look at the matching dust jacket and book case.  This group of orangutans is full of playfulness in their favorite place, a rain forest home.  On the back, to the left, two tall trees, an orangutan climbing each, frame another book title written by Margarita Engle with accompanying endorsements.  Matching green on green with white for light forest scenes decorate the opening and closing endpapers.  An introductory title page reading


features sister walking on her hands.  Mama and baby with another are swinging through the trees in the double-page picture on the formal title page.  We see them again climbing on a single page opposite the note about tanka poems.

Rendered with pencil and ink and colored digitally, Renee Kurilla's illustrations depict the nature of her subject within their habitat as well as capturing the mood of the narrative.  Deep lush greens, warm shades of brown and orange, cool blue hues and colorful flora and fauna span two pages, single pages or smaller images framed in a circle.  This circular theme seems to be carried out in the larger images by placing luminosity in their centers.

Readers are drawn to the expressions on the faces of the orangutans and the caretakers and visitors of the rain forest.  To portray motion we see elements frequently extend from the frame.  White space is used to create extra energy in the smaller illustrations.

One of my favorite images is the one selected for the formal title page.  You are transported to the rain forest, feeling the humidity, hearing the creature noises and watching in awe as the orangutans swing from tree to tree before your eyes.  Renee Kurilla represents their skill, their form and their feeling of happiness in their home.

This, Orangutanka:  A Story in Poems written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Renee Kurilla, is a wonderful title to share for its spirited story, an introduction to a poetic form and for heightening awareness about these endangered creatures.  Every poem is a read aloud joy.  Each illustration makes you wish you could whisk yourself away into the wild to visit these amazing beings.  Included at the end is a page of Orangutan Facts, and Learn More About Orangutans through online and print resources.

To learn more about Margarita Engle and Renee Kurilla please follow the links to their websites attached to their names.  This link to the publisher's website offers the opportunity to view eight interior illustrations. This book is part of a trifecta featured at teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. (Don't miss the book trailer), super third grade teacher Colby Sharp's sharpread (an interview with Margarita Engle), and Renee Kurilla is a guest at the Nerdy Book Club.  Here is an interview of Renee Kurilla at Parka Blogs.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful review! I'll link it to my website.

    1. You are most welcome, Margarita. I would be honored to have you link it to your website. I have a huge fan of your work.