Animals That Ought to Be: Poems

Richard Michelson, Author, Leonard Baskin, Illustrator Simon & Schuster $16 (0p) ISBN 978-0-689-80635-3
Both imaginative and colorful, nonsensical and clever, this collection of poems nonetheless does not hit the high standard of this team's Did You Say Ghosts? Michelson's narrator loves real animals--dogs, cats, mice, ""chicks and geese and pigs and sheep,"" you name it--but at night, he says, ""fantastic creatures fill my head/ Animals you never see./ Animals that ought to be."" He blithely conjures up a gallery of such creatures as the Nightnoise Gladiator, who gobbles up the ""drip-drips, drip-drips"" of the bathroom sink; and the Channel Changer, with his ""eighty-button belly,"" who is ""a pet beyond compare./ He surfs through the commercials/ and he never needs repair."" But the cheery, effervescent tone of the verse is somewhat at odds with the formal quality of Baskin's paintings. While brilliantly executed, his monsters are static and imposing; they lack the easy playfulness of, for example, Peter Sis's illustrations in Monday's Troll or The Dragons Are Singing Tonight. In one particularly telling instance, the narrator uses the most colloquial language to explain his need for a Talkback Bat: ""My brother is a big-mouth brat!.../ `a nitwit, moron, maniac.'/ That's what I'd say if I talked back""; Baskin's creature howls silently on the opposing page, like a mask in an anthropological museum. While both the poems and the art are strong, their strengths aren't always complementary. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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