cover image Carnival of the Animals: Poems Inspired by Saint-Sans' Music

Carnival of the Animals: Poems Inspired by Saint-Sans' Music

James Berry, , illus. by Satoshi Kitamura. . Candlewick, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2960-1

Chernaik invited a dozen poets (she pens one poem herself, and Gerard Benson authors two) to respond to composer Saint-Saëns' 1886 "zoological fantasy" (a 55-minute CD, performed by the Apollo Chamber Orchestra, includes a reading of the 14 poems followed by the corresponding musical passages). Kitamura's (Pablo the Artist , reviewed above) bold ink-and-watercolor full-bleed spreads incorporate a panoply of styles that ably reflect the content of the poems and the mood of the music. James Berry's opening poem, "Lion," for instance, emulates the foreboding themes in the music ("Hunger switches you on, big cat./ Tiptoe breaks into trot"), as the massive beast faces readers and appears poised to jump from the pages. In Chernaik's "Tortoise," 13 turtles dance on separate oval platforms (the text likewise appears in an oval) and the opening line, "Under the mottled shell of the old tortoise/ beats the heart of a young dancer" underscores the music's throbbing pulse; for Gerard Benson's "Personages of Long Ears," illustrated in hues of muted brown, donkeys fill the last row of a crowded theater—could they be critics? (They have "the air of One Who Knows" and "scribble notes in scruffy pads.") Their "bray" echoes the wild thrumming of the violins. Widely varied in structure and style, the highly accessible poems convey an air of enthusiasm, expectation and movement, while the artwork, even in its diversity, threads the spreads together. X.J. Kennedy's "Aquarium," depicted as a stain-glass waterworld with a child's figure in the corner, closes with an engaging rhyme, "From behind glass, a couple of curious squid/ Stare out at me: What's that odd thing—a kid? " This same child reappears in the final spread, conducting an animal orchestra, and bringing this playfully exhilarating collection of poetry, art and music to a close. Ages 6-10. (Apr.)