Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Poetry for Young People: Animal Poems

Poetry for Young People: Animal Poems

Edited by John Hollander
Illustrator:  Simona Mulazzani 
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2004   ISBN: 978-1402709265

Animals and humans have been interacting in all kinds of ways for thousands of years, and for this reason humans have been writing about animals ever since they acquired the ability to write. Some writers and poets have told stories about animals or described them, while others have tried to imagine what it would be like to be an animal, seeing the world through an animal’s eyes.

   For this collection of poems John Hollander has brought together poems about animals that people in North America, Europe, and East Asia have written in the last four centuries. Some of the poems tell the story of talking animals. For example, in The Owl and the Pussycat we hear about an unlikely pair of lovers who sail away “in a pea-green boat” and are married by a “piggy-wig” that has “a ring at the end of his nose.”

   In Fable by Ralph Waldo Emerson we meeting a talking squirrel who gets into a quarrel with a mountain. The squirrel admits that the mountain is “doubtless very big,” but that does not mean that the squirrel is not important too. After all, a squirrel is “spry” and can “crack a nut,” which a mountain most certainly cannot do.

   Other poems provide readers with a description of an animal, helping us to understand what the animal is like. In The Eagle by Lord Alfred Tennyson, we hear about the bird that lives “Close to the sun in lonely lands,” and that “watches from his mountain walls. / And like a thunderbolt he falls.”  Though it is not grand and regal, the jelly fish that Marianne Moore describes in her poem, A Jelly-Fish is still an extraordinary creature. In her opinion the jelly fish is “a fluctuating charm” that is both visible and invisible.

   Throughout this excellent book all the poems are prefaced by a note from the editor. These notes provide readers with further information about the poet and the poet’s intentions, and some of the notes also tell us a little about the poem and its history.

   This title is one in an excellent series of books of poetry published by Sterling Publishing.