When she was a kid, a woman I used to know wrote a song about a lizard for a science report. I haven't seen this woman in 25 years, but that song sticks with me:
I don't wanna (clap clap) Be an iguana (clap clap)
They have long nails
And spiny tails.
I don't wanna (clap clap)
Be an iguana (clap clap).
I don't wanna be an iguana, by Amanda Bailey, submitted in partial fulfilment of the elementary science requirement at Little Red School House, Greenwich Village, NYC, sometime in the 1970's.
Amanda, wherever you are, I hope you get your hands on this new book of poetry by Joyce Sidman. You'll like it: there's a gecko on the cover, his tail curling around the spine of the book, crunching on some unfortunate winged insect. If you're like me, and you were in 1985, you approve of poetry with a body count. And check this out:
Gecko on the Wall
Her jaws dart out
to crunch up flies.
Her tongue flicks up
to wipe her eyes.
She climbs up walls
with eerie cries.
Her tail comes off:
a wriggling prize!
She sprints and leaps
and slinks and spies...
Don't you wish you were a gecko?
It's like a closure thing, see? In addition, there are a NUMBER of other things to very much like about this book: Beckie Prange, for example. Basically everything about Beckie Prange. I have to do bullet points for Beckie Prange, because there are too many things to fit into a sentence:
- A watercolor palette that is both appropriate and exciting - grass is green and the sky is blue, but it's an interesting green, an intense blue.
- Decisive black linocut lines.
- Composition that thoughtfully illustrates each type of organism - for ants, we get a cutaway of an ant colony below the ground, for grass, a view looking up through the grass to the sky.
- Creatures and plants drawn from life, where possible, and not faked when not - her crows and squirrels are animated and detailed, while a coyote pack is drawn in silhouette. I find that totally appropriate to the species, and consistent with the way most of us experience these animals - we have ample opportunity to observe crows, but coyotes are usually just a quick form angling through the dusk.
Not to take anything away from Joyce Sidman, heck no. As always, her adeptness at various poetic forms keeps this collection lively and surprising. And for every poem, we also get an info-packed paragraph. Ms. Sidman has adopted some of the conventions that scientists use when speaking of organisms: she locates them taxonomically and gives the age of the taxon, i.e. diatoms are Class Bacillariophyceae, which is 190 million years old; she indicates scale in both English and metric units; and her paragraphs cover habitat and range, as well as notable characteristics.
Each of the taxa in this book has been selected because it is, as they say, a "successful". From dandelions to sharks, these are living things that occur all over the world. They have been around for a long time, or they have spread very fast. Humans appear on the last page, giving the reader a chance to compare the mechanisms by which other types of organisms have maintained their place in the ecological spectrum - to ours. Nice.
Endpaper bonus: Beckie Prange cut a piece of string 46 meters long. At a scale of 1 centimeter to 1 million years, she marked the place on the string where each of the taxa in this book are thought to have evolved. She coiled it up an a beautifully mazy, petroglyphy way and painted it in a spectrum of earth reds and sea blues, with the colors corresponding to geologic periods. Worth the price of the book all on its own.