________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009


African Acrostics: A Word in Edgewise.

Avis Harley. Photographs by Deborah Noyes.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Ltd.), 2009.
40 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
ISBN 978-0-7636-3621-0.

Subject Headings:
Animals-Africa-Juvenile poetry.
Children’s poetry, Canadian.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

**** /4



A Croc Acrostic


Being of a somewhat older generation, my liking of poetry is relatively nonexistent. One might only blame that on the way in which it was taught in the “olden days”! Had I been exposed to the likes of Avis Harley’s poems, it most certainly would be a different story. Her poems are delightful. I have been fortunate to have heard Avis on several occasions – one being a rhyming introduction of a guest speaker. What fun!

internal art      Harley can certainly entice children to enjoy reading and writing their own poetry. In this book, she explores acrostics while highlighting African animals. Each two-page spread features a poem faced by a close-up photograph of the subject. The alluring titles, such as “Moody Guy,” “Skysweepers,” “The Watcher,” “Untamed” and “Sipping the Sunset,” cannot help but capture the natural curiosity of children. In the poems which range in length from five to 14 lines long, Harley is able to capture the essence of each animal with well-chosen words – often humorously. In “Buffalo Bluff,” she begins:

When you meet with a buffalo fellow And you feel your legs turn into Jello, Though your fear is acute, Calmly say to the brute, Hello, you great beast of a bellow!

     Although most of the poems are the familiar acrostics using the first letter of each line to form a descriptive word or phrase, some vary. For instance, two are double acrostics using the first and last letters of each line. “Impalas in Peril” has five vertical arrangements with words set in columns. This arrangement seems to imitate the antelope’s movements as it leaps away from danger. “Leopard Plan” has a step pattern using the first, second, the third letter, etc., of each line. In this case, the hidden letters are highlighted making it easier for children to see the pattern. In her “More About Acrostics,” Harley points out that “Hornbill’s Hot Day” combines an acrostic with a concrete poem.

     There is enough variety and level of sophistication in the poems to entice a wider range of students than the 8 to 10 years found on the publisher’s web page. I can see that some of the more complex poems would certainly appeal to older students. African Acrostics is very attractively designed. The endpapers show white clouds in a vast blue sky. The page colours reflect what I imagine is the African landscape – clear blue of the wide open skies, the soft green of newly sprouting grass, the umber of the parched landscape, and the gold of summer-dried grass. Clear close-up pictures by Deborah Noyes of African animals dominate each page. The poems about each animal are in crisp and larger-than-usual print font. The pages are, therefore, strikingly simple and uncluttered. Included are “More About Acrostics” which gives the meaning and some ideas for writing different types of acrostics. In addition, “Nature Notes” details some extra information about each animal. A “Note from the Photographer” that gives insight into photographing animals in Namibia completes this engaging book.

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black, a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005, is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at www.heartofthestory.ca.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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