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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk, written by Deborah Ruddell and illustrated by Joan Rankin.Simon & Schuster, 2009. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"In a watery mirror
the rugged raccoon
admires his face
by the light of the moon:
the mysterious mask,
the whiskers beneath,
the sliver of cricket
still stuck in his teeth."

I so admired Deborah Ruddell's first book of poetry, Today at the Bluebird Cafe (Simon & Schuster, 2007) that I was really eager to read this second book. Would I be disappointed? Could she possibly do as well as that first time? I am not disappointed! She has created a new and wonderful cache of poems about the forest. There are twenty-two of them and they are timed to reflect the passing of a year in that ecosystem...they begin in spring and end when it seems that winter may be bidding its final farewell. The animals of the forest are the focus, even while she is describing the vegetation and environs.

She is a master at choosing just the right word to make her rhyming verses appealing and entertaining, while informative. Humor is at the heart of much of this astute collection. I particularly love, and have often shared, the turkey's lament about our use of his personage for Thanksgiving art.

"My head is quite distinguished
and it's nothing like your thumb."

That is just a taste. It really is a riot to share in classrooms and with students who regularly employ the hand method for creating this poor, beleaguered creature.
Her word choice is impeccable and rhythmic. So much to share and such a welcome talent to the poets who are writing remarkable work for our students and children to enjoy.

Joan Rankin's watercolors give life to the creatures described and turn the forest into an endlessly interesting place to be. The textures are intriguing, and the brighter colors a perfect match to the muted backgrounds. While we are conscious that the focus of this collection is the forest, we are also clearly aware of those animals who make it their home. Readers will feel an immediate empathy as they note the expressions and postures of each woodland creature, from the turtle in sunglasses to the closely observed green tiger beetle.

If a pattern is established, we might have to wait until 2011 for her next wonderful collection. I know, now, that it will be worth that wait!

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