Friday, February 4, 2011

Question: What's for Dinner? Answer: Everything!

What's for dinner?
Well, I guess that depends on who you're asking....

The frog thinks the mosquito's for dinner. But watch out, Frog! 

"Hauth's funny, eloquent poems celebrate the often-grisly realities of the food chain." 
(Publisher's Weekly)

What's for dinner? Sounds like a pretty straightforward question, right? Pizza, spaghetti, fried chicken, tacos, pot roast...add a tortilla or a piece of bread, rice, some vegetables or salad, some dessert and there you have it - dinner.

But what if you asked Mother Nature - what does she cook up for her kids?

In Katherine B. Hauth's wonderful new book of poems, WHAT'S FOR DINNER: QUIRKY, SQUIRMY POEMS FROM THE ANIMAL WORLD (published by Charlesbridge)  Mother Nature definitely cooks up a feast.

There are snakes for hawks, carrion for vultures, mayflies for swallows, worms for turtles, blood for mosquitoes, roadkill for ants...WHAT'S FOR DINNER offers up a whopping 29 poems that tell us about animals and their appetites. In case that sounds dry or dusty, think again - non-fiction has changed!  These poems don't just deliver the facts - they are energetic and funny:

The Nose Knows 
The scent 
of fallen fig seeds
calls a rat to feed.

Rat's aroma 
brings a boa
to its furry prey. 

Rat gets a hug today.

Getting boys to read poetry isn't an easy task, once the idea is planted that Poetry with a capital P is flowery and emotional. But give boys poetry like this, with a little muscle and a little slug-slime and they'll (pardon the pun) eat it up. You can find some poop, some pee, some bugs eating the algae off a sloth's back, some wasp eggs hatching out from inside a caterpillar, some stink, some worms and germs.... These messy things aren't purely the domain of boys, but it would be foolish to ignore the appeal of the gross factor here.  Besides, it doesn't overwhelm - it's just part of the natural order of things. And I love to see a book come along that an "I-Hate-Books" kind of  boy will enjoy. Remember what the writer Lorrie Moore said -  "Teachers I meet everywhere are always asking, 'How can we get boys to read?' And the answer is, simply, book by book." Well, this is one of those books.

The poems are full of wonderful humor ("Finding food is not a joke./ Living things must eat or croak")  as are the illustrations. Take, for example, the above-mentioned caterpillar, about to burst: 

I just love the expression on that bug-eyed caterpillar's face at the Decisive Moment! And I think kids will, too.

Another poem I particularly like is "Food Chain"-

Food Chain 

Painted lady butterfly    whiptail lizard    garter snake
now reside     one inside     the other

all inside
the road runner.

Look at the control of sound there, with the meter (trochaic) handled deftly, and rhyme (reside/inside and other/roadrunner) present but not at the expense of sense. If you think that's easy, in 17 words, just give it a try! Hauth certainly knows how to use the tools in the poetry toolbox.

Sure, a child can learn about who eats what, but Hauth is the kind of poet who knows information is not poetry, so she stirs the pot a bit and comes up with just the right blend of images, sounds and ideas for her poems - that's a winning trifecta. In addition to the poems, Hauth has included a few pages of explanatory notes at the end that focus on unfamiliar vocabulary (such as predators, scavengers, parasites, symbiosis) as well as addressing the web-of-life issues in each poem individually. A list of suggested books for further reading wraps things up.

This is a wonderful book for both learning and laughs. I'll venture one last pun and say it's delicious. I mean, any book whose title includes both "quirky" and "squirmy" is my kind of book. And I love to see non-fiction that blurs the boundaries between different genres. Joyce Sidman's recent poetry collections such as Ubiquitous and Butterfly Eyes come to mind, but their tone is more serious. Here is non-fiction/poetry to fill a child with both wonder and laughter.  

You can see a video interview of poet Katherine Hauth made by fellow New-Mexican writer Uma Krishnaswami over at Uma's wonderful blog, Writing with a Broken Tusk.


The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted by Doraine Bennett over at Dori Reads.  Head over there to see what other people are posting.