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Monday, December 31, 2012

A Strange Place to Call Home, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Ed Young. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2012. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"This harsh and salty land
(it's not a place to mock) -
Flamingos find it grand.

No palm trees or pink sand,
It's where they come to flock -
This harsh and salty land.

In saline lakes they stand,
No grassy land, or dock.
Flamingos find it grand"

I'm just saying that waking up at 7 am when the outside temperature is -29 Celsius and the wind chill makes it feel like -34 makes this a strange place to call home. But, I do...and in reading about the strange places that Marilyn Singer has chosen to write her signature poetry about, I don't feel that bad. This would be so much worse for me:

"Hear "penguins" think cold,
        think riding on floes.
Who pictures them swimming
         where it seldom snows,
    on the dry, dry coasts
          of Chile and Peru,
    with no ice to slide on,  
          no glaciers to view?
Where they have to dig burrows
     with bills and with legs,
     so the scorching sun
           won't hard-boil
     each precious clutch of eggs?
Which adaptation is the bolder:
      to live where it's arid,
           or where it's colder?"

I love poetry and I love nonfiction. So, when a poet as terrifically talented and erudite as Marilyn Singer combines the two, who can help but be delighted. Your children and students will be intrigued by the fourteen animals celebrated in the work she has written for this collection. They live in some of the most inhospitable places in the world, wrought with danger but also offering safety from their enemies and an abundance of food. They have adapted and thrive there.

Many of the animals were unknown to me; I am thankful the author chose to add an informative endnote for each of them:

Some parts of the earth's seabed are slowly moving apart. As they move, cracks form. Seawater seeps into these cracks and is heated by magma -molten rock deep in the earth - to temperatures far above boiling. The water spews back out like a geyser, carrying with it many minerals. When the superheated water reaches the cold ocean water, the minerals clump and form amazing chimney-like shapes. It would seem that few animals could live around these hot vents, but tube worms (Riftia pachyptila) are among the creatures that can." Huh!?!

Once she has regaled us with all the tidbits that give knowledge of the animals included, she explains to her readers about the poetry forms that she used. What an encouragement for young writers try out some of the forms on their own.

To add to an already exemplary book, Ed Young has created wondrous collages using deep, rich color and textured papers that make you want to reach out and touch them. He cuts and tears his papers to fill each double page spread with much that is of interest in these varying and dangerous environments.

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