One-Minute Book Reviews

January 16, 2009

Children’s Poems About Rainforests and Their Creatures

Un-acid the rain.
Tell polluters: Refrain!
Help the rain forests gain, not grow smaller.

From “Prayer of the Good Green Boy” in Sad Underwear and Other Complications

By Janice Harayda

Children’s books about rainforests are too much with us. Trees are dying for these books at an alarming rate, creating a literary Robin Hood effect.

But children’s poems about rainforests are harder to find, perhaps because poets of yesteryear wrote about “jungles” instead. One the few I’ve found that would suit grades 3 and up is “Rainforest,” by the late Australian poet and conservationist Judith Wright, which appears in Classic Poems to Read Aloud (Kingfisher, 256 pp., $8.95, paperback, ages 8–12), an excellent anthology compiled by James Berry.

“Rainforest” consists of 12 lines of iambic tetrameter that celebrate the interdependence of the creatures in natural world. Wright makes an implicit plea for biodiversity in the poem, which begins: “The forest drips and glows with green. / The tree frog croaks his far-off song. / His voice is stillness, moss and rain / drunk from the forest ages long.” The most unusual aspect of this poem is that Wright has arranged its lines in the shape of a tree trunk. This is a subtle example of what’s known as a pattern poem, a poem in which the words or letters form a typographical picture that relates to the subject.

Apart from that device, “Rainforest” works better as an environmental manifesto than as art. Judith Viorst has more success with “Prayer of the Good Green Boy,” found in Sad Underwear and Other Complications: More Poems for Children and Their Parents (Aladdin, 80 pp., $6.99, paperback, ages 7 and up). This witty and ironic poem puts a child’s love for the environment in the context of his other concerns, using spirited anapestic lines: “Un-acid the rain. / Tell polluters: Refrain! / Help the rain forests gain, not grow smaller.” The poem ends: “And — oh yes — one more thing. / Could you please make me four inches taller?”

Many good poems, if not specifically about rainforests, deal with creatures who may inhabit them. Classic Poems to Read Aloud also has a section of poems about fish, birds, animals, or insects, including some found in jungles. Among them: William Blake’s “”The Tiger,” Ted Hughes’s “The Jaguar” and Randall Jarrell’s “Bats.” Then there George Macbeth’s “Insects,” which laments the perils of sharing a household with flies, mosquitoes and other winged creatures. Any rainforest explorer might identify with lines like: “I swat at my forehead, I scratch at my ankles, / Mole and wart, and a rash that rankles.”

You may also want to look at a picture book for slightly younger children, Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme (Dawn, 32 pp., $8.95, paperback), by Marianne Berkes and by Jeanette Canyon, which I haven’t seen it. It begins: “Over in the jungle / Where the trees greet the sun / Lived a mother marmoset / And her marmoset one.”

You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter, where she often writes about books for children or teenagers.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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