Poetry, prose and charming art will capture readers
Lee Wardlaw revitalizes haiku with “Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku” (Holt, ages 4-8). Immediately, she gives a new perspective explaining that the book is actually composed of senryu, a haiku-like form focusing on behavior rather than nature.
Wardlaw uses a style known for its simplicity to convey the complexities of the cat hero. Won Ton is not an ever-so-grateful shy shelter Siamese, but instead a feisty feline full of feelings and a secret. When “chosen” – he’s not quite sure about leaving the shelter, questioning this transition during “The Car Ride,” a poem that begins: “letmeoutletme/outletmeoutletmeout…”
The 33 linked poems give a humorous cat’s-eye view of transitioning from shelter to home, completed only in the satisfying last poem when Won Ton reveals his true name. Warlaw’s poems are as sophisticated and broad in mood as are her main character’s reactions to his life changes. Eugene Yelchin’s illustrations stress emotions and the comedic, referring to Won Ton’s Asian heritage by picturing Katsushika Hokusai’s famous Great Wave print.
The oversized shape and Vicky White’s gripping illustrations clue readers into Martin Jenkins’ unique outlook on endangered animals in “Can We Save the Tiger?” (Candlewick, ages 7 and up). “The world’s a big place. But it’s not that big when you consider how much there is to squeeze into it,” he begins, and an extinct dodo dominates the facing page, staring into this distance as if longing for life.
Jenkins’ descriptions show the complications of conservation. For example, a tiger, though beautiful, has a different relationship with a poor farmer who seeks to protect his goats and knows he can make as much on one skin as he might earn in three months of farming. Jenkins portrays equally evocatively the plight of others like the partula snail and white-rumped vultures, as well as humans’ efforts to save animals.
His writing is conversational, thoughtful and made for reading aloud.
Nine-year-old Tammy is worried – her mother lies in a coma and her father is overwhelmed. Out of nowhere her great-aunt, Mean Yuri Hamada, appears to whisk Tammy and her older brother, Ken, off to Emerald Isle. Ken plots to return home by impeding Yuri’s resolve with acts of extreme brattiness.
But almost as if she has no free will, Tammy is captivated by Yuri’s storytelling, the way she brings old Japanese folktales to life. She is as concerned about a buried nest of loggerhead turtles that may not hatch.
The author skillfully blends all these subplots with themes of renewal and transformation. In the final pages, the hatchlings make their way to the sea, “their flippers make tracks like tiny bulldozers” and Tammy, who has plowed through her despair, sees their lack of fear, their relentless pursuit of home and is changed.