Sunday, April 24, 2011
Won Ton, written by Lee Wardlaw and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. Henry Holt, 2011. $19.50 ages 5 and up
"Dogs have hair. Cats, fur.
Dogs whine, yip, howl. Cats purr.
I say: No contest."
Wait - let me back in!"
It wasn't long ago I suggested to teachers, especially at the intermediate level, that haiku is not always 'easy' when trying a new poetic form. Traditional English haiku is quite specific in its elements. It has seventeen syllables, a three line form (5,7,5 syllables in the line), describes a moment in time, is often about nature and a season, and should be able to be read in one breath. Then along come authors Bob Raczka (Guyku, 2010), Michael Rosen (The Cuckoo's Haiku, 2009), Jane Yolen (Least Things, 2003), Jack Prelutsky (If Not for the Cat, 2004), Paul Janeczko (Wing Nuts, 2006) and Andrew Clements (Dogku, 2007) who offer up contemparary poems to help us all see that 'we can do it'. Ours may not be as polished and pleasing as what these talented people have written; but they each help us believe in ourselves as poets, and that's what I want for young writers!
In an author's note Lee Wardlaw describes the difference between haiku and senryu, which developed from and are similar to haiku. Then she tells her audience that her story is told in a series of senryu: "the foibles of human nature - or in this case, cat nature - are the focus, expressed by a narrator in a humorous, playful or ironic way." She hits her mark with Won Ton.
Won Ton, a rescue cat, is the teller and his voice is clear, and often haughty. The chapters are short and refer to the events in the tale...The Shelter, The Choosing, The Car Ride, The Naming, The New Place...you get the picture.
Won Ton has moments of insecurity:
"No rush. I've got plans.
Gnaw this paw. Nip that flea. And
wish: Please, Boy, pick me."
He also has strong and humorous responses:
"Cleo, Leia, Belle.
Got a tick in your ear? I
said prince, not princess."
This tale is told by someone who absolutely understands a cat's psyche. Her poetry is matched by an artist whose ever-changing perspectives, expressions and backgrounds allow readers a light-hearted look a captivating canine who's looking for love in all the right places.
"Your tummy, soft as
warm dough. I knead and knead, then
bake it with a nap."