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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Orangutanka: A Story in Poems, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Renee Kurilla. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"heaps of sweet fruit
are piled up on a platform -
such wild excitement
as forest rangers offer
a feast for orangutans!

towering green trees
shiver, sway, rattle, and shake
when orangutans
clamber toward colorful mounds
of bananas and mangoes"

Aren't we all fascinated by the intelligent, inquisitive faces  of the orangutan? I know that I certainly am. In the engaging story of a family of five orangutans finding refuge and harmony in a wildlife shelter, we learn about the many ways they go about their days.

Margarita Engle uses a set of linked poems to voice their story. She provides a note about this poetry known as tanka.

"Tanka is an ancient Japanese form consisting of five lines,
with a traditional syllable count of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. Modern tanka
poets rarely count syllables, but do follow a basic line pattern
of short, long, short, long, long."

Using minimal punctuation and capitalization (another descriptor of the form) Ms. Engle introduces us to the family. While humans watch, big sister puts on a show. Juicy fruits provided by the rangers attract immediate attention and provide an intimate look at the eating habits, the joy that the family finds in sharing mutual activities and further proof that big sister is the extrovert in charge of entertainment.

somersaults and cartwheels,
so many forms of orangudance
with lively arms and legs"

Rain doesn't stop grandma from joining in the dance ... a lesson in rhythm for the watchful children in the audience. Readers are encouraged to join in the fun.

Renee Kurilla works in pencil and ink, and then digitally colors the joyful images that perfectly match the high spirits of Ms. Engle's verse. The setting is clearly displayed in lush greens and browns. The expression filled faces of the orangutan family will ensure careful attention from young readers. The fluid movement in the poetry is reflected in the varied perspectives used to bring these remarkable creatures to vibrant life.

Orangutan facts and an invitation to learn more, both in print and online, follow.

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