cover image ANIMAL SENSE


Diane Ackerman, , illus. by Peter Sís. . Knopf, $14.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-375-82384-8

This quirky collection of animal poems is organized around the five senses but young readers will have difficulty distinguishing between Ackerman's (A Natural History of the Senses) flights of fancy and the facts of nature she weaves throughout the poems. A combination of imagined balderdash and poetic panache, the poems seem only shallowly playful. A baby penguin, we're told prefers snuggling up to his "Mom's tummy/ but a human hand or rug/ also feels yummy." The poems wobble between authentic descriptions of animal life and whimsical, anthropomorphized dialogue. Baby penguins "[waltz] through their ice palace/ on Mama's feet," but also squawk, "Hug me!" In a poem about the vision required for a bee's "waggle"-dance, Ackerman announces, "Bees hate the movies,/ they loathe TV." Although readers will discover some lovely metaphorical nuggets buried in the technically proficient poems (the whale poem is especially noteworthy, split by Sís's elegant image of a humpback plunging down the spread), sometimes an initial, arresting image is coupled with a baffling non sequitur (e.g., "A stapler with its tiny fangs,/ cannot outwit/ orangutangs"). The alliteration and rhyme may pique readers' interest, but the concept of a stapler trying to outwit an animal seems strained. Sís accompanies each poem with skillfully rendered, one-color pointillist artwork resembling woodblock prints, as well as occasional boxes containing detailed spot art. A beautifully designed but unfortunately flawed collection. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)