December 05, 2013


Here on Earth: An Animal Alphabet. By Marcia Perry. Pomegranate Kids. $15.95.

When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly. By Kathy DeZarn Beynette. Pomegranate Kids. $14.95.

     Sometimes the purpose of a book, even a children’s book, emerges only gradually as you read it. This is the case with Marcia Perry’s Here on Earth, which only seems to be the “animal alphabet” that its title proclaims it to be. The book is clever enough from the start, presenting multiple creatures for each letter of the alphabet and connecting the narratives about them with words whose sounds also reflect each letter: “Dazzling Dragonflies dance. Dandy Ducks dawdle in the drink. Delightful Dolphins dive in the depths.” The unusual illustrations, showing the animals clustered around each other in a diamond-shaped frame that is itself within a square-within-a-square, make the book visually attractive even as the narrative makes it intriguing to read. It soon becomes apparent, though, that Perry is doing more than stringing alliterative words together. Again and again, she introduces a letter by prefacing her list of animals with the words, “Here on Earth,” making it clear that all the animals she mentions, all the things she talks about them doing, are all happening right on our own planet. And slowly but surely, a message of ecological and zoological awareness emerges, as the wording becomes less a listing of animals and more a plea for understanding their importance: “The various Vipers, the vulnerable, velvety Voles, and the vigilant Vultures are all vital.” By the time the letter Y arrives, the message is explicit: “There are Yaks, Yellowhammers, and Yapoks sharing this world with You and me.” (Yes, yapoks – Perry includes little-known animals along with common ones.) By the end, inevitably, the triangle-shaped frame has receded into the background, leaving a round one in the foreground, and that round one is transmuted to the planet Earth at the book’s close – a clear reminder of the reality that almost all the animals in the book live, just like its readers, on the same small planet, all occupying their own places and all worthy of acknowledgment, concern and consideration. Here on Earth gently metamorphoses from an alphabet book to a message book as it progresses, but it does so so gently that it never seems preachy or overbearing. Indeed, Perry delves into a touch of humor with the one animal in the book that does not live on our planet, noting that “Every urchin is unique. Umbrella birds are common. Unicorns, though unreal, are very common.” But perhaps even the unicorns, in a sense, “live” (or exist, at least in imagination) on the same Earth where all the other creatures are found.

     Kathy DeZarn Beynette’s aims are more modest and her approach more overtly humorous in When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly. Using paintings that resemble and are based on children’s art, Beynette poetically explores the possible things to do with and for a variety of likely and unlikely pets. “When your bee is feeling down,/ maybe she should wear a crown./ Anytime I’m feeling blue,/ nothing but a crown will do.” “If you make a rude remark,/ I hope it won’t be to your shark./ Don’t say, ‘That’s a stupid sweater,’/ or ‘I like sharks, but whales are better.’/ Keep your shark relations happy!/ Rudeness makes us all feel snappy.” Even without the picture of a shark wearing a sweater, the amusement value here is obvious. Beynette presents a spider wearing four pairs of bunny slippers, a goat sitting in a time-out chair, a flounder that forgets to floss, and a highly amusingly drawn insect with distinct male legs and a mustache – this last illustration going with the admonition: “Treat your ladybug like a lady,/ unless your ladybug is a man./ In that case, call him ‘Sir Lady’/ and get along as best you can.” Beynette’s non sequiturs are often zany, but sometimes she slips in a few more-thoughtful words, such as reminding an owl “that work we love feels more like play” and commenting, in regard to both a cat and a human, “You cannot be perfect; you’re sure to have flaws.” When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly is an amusing little book that goes beyond pure amusement from time to time – not only fun but also, here and there, more than funny.

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