Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ingenious Animal Architects

It can happen in any season but more often than not, it escalates in the spring.  There is a flurry of activity in the animal kingdom.  Designs honed after decades of trial and error, most the key to their survival, are seen in all kinds of habitats.  Each of them serves a specific purpose.

The structures constructed by one or many individuals reveal the marvels of their skills.  In A Place To Start A Family: Poems About Creatures That Build (Charlesbridge, January 16, 2018) written by David L. Harrison with illustrations by Giles Laroche tribute is given to those abilities. These accomplishments are astounding.

Creatures That Build
For thousands of years people have built shelters to live in and protect their families. We use wood, cloth, brick, concrete, steel, glass, and more to create safe and unique homes.  Many animals are builders, too.

Twelve poems grouped by location begin with those that shape homes underground.  Several feet below the surface black-tailed prairie dogs tunnel entire towns.  A special chamber is dedicated to the nursery.  Another critter known for tunnels uses its nose to find the perfect dry spot for its children although it prefers a more moist setting for other activities.  A wily spider hides beneath a cleverly conceived door which springs open to snare prey.

One of the deadliest reptiles is the only one to make a nest, without benefit of arms or legs, for its eggs.  For a queen who can lay eggs by the thousands per day, workers build a tower for protection.  Even the smallest when working with others can erect a castle fit for royalty.  Another arachnid weaves a web, a snare for unlucky others, in order to eat.

A hopeful male under the ocean fashions a tunnel from plant life to attract a female to lay her eggs within its walls.  Another does the same in creating a large artistic motif on the sandy floor.  One of these males wins the dad of the year award and the other abandons the young as soon as the eggs hatch.  Another of the builders in water cuts trees and constructs dams.  Mounded sticks provide safe homes for the young inside.

Winged wonders of the air work tirelessly to form homes round and rare.  Babies are tucked tight inside and out of sight.  Did you know the nests of white storks are sometimes used for generations?  Paper hides a busy queen and her buzzing family. A surprise awaits those who turn the final page. 

Each carefully worded poem by David L. Harrison employs a different poetic style.  Of four lines, the final three may end with rhyming words, or perhaps every other line will rhyme.  Sometimes three rhyming lines are framed above and below by other rhyming words.  Each one supplies a rhythm in keeping with the creature.  A concrete verse creates a slithering body.  Repeated phrases will have readers and listeners tapping their toes and snapping their fingers.  Here are the first five lines from Yellow Garden Spider.

You throw a line of silken thread
   and let it flutter where it will,
   to catch on limb or windowsill,
   then use your ancient weaver's skill
to make it hold you when you tread.

A marvelous image spanning flap edge to flap edge covers the matching dust jacket and book case.  Artist Giles Laroche extends the sky, homes and wall.  On the back, to the left, a stork is flying with twigs toward another standing on a nest.  Two other nests are perched on chimneys.  There is an animated symmetry to this first illustration.  It asks us to open the book.  The title letters in red are varnished and raised.

A golden orange-yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A European paper wasp nest is placed on a sky blue canvas.  The insects work around the letters of the text on the title page.  The verso and introduction pages show two red ovenbirds constructing their nest on a leafy branch.

For each poem Giles Laroche designs and builds a two-page picture.  His cut-paper relief illustrations on a variety of hand-painted papers are realistically detailed.  There is texture and three-dimensionality to this type of artwork which will have readers reaching to touch the pages.  On several of the visuals we are given cross-section views of the homes. Some of the pictures are a more panoramic view and others bring us close to the animals.

One of my many favorite pictures is for the white-spotted pufferfish.  The male fish forms a unique pattern in the sand which can be forty times his size, sometimes using shells. In this picture several shades of sand in concentric circles spread out from the gutter as a center.  They reach to the left and right edges and to the bottom of the two pages.  A male and female pufferfish glide over the pattern, waiting.

Wonderful as a read aloud to a group or for sharing one-on-one, A Place To Start A Family: Poems About Creatures That Build written by David L. Harrison with illustrations by Giles Laroche is an excellent choice.  Each poem is a study in writing style as well as providing information.  Readers will be captivated by the painstaking, piece-by-piece images.  You will want to add this gem to your professional and personal collections.  At the close of the book, before the surprise, more facts about each creature are given in separate paragraphs with additional reading suggestions.

To learn more about David L. Harrison and Giles Laroche and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  David L. Harrison has a blog.  At this publisher's website (Penguin Random House) you can view an excerpt.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other choices selected by those participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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