Friday, August 13, 2010

The strong

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors
Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors
Poetry by Joyce Sidman
Illustrations by Beckie Prange
Houghton Mifflin, 34 pages
$17, ages 5 and up

Starting with the impressive word in the title and the gorgeous cover, Sidman and Prange's new book is a stunning tribute to some forms of life on earth that we might take for granted, but that have outlived us  by millions (in one case billions) of years. And they continue to thrive.
Whether tiny – bacteria, mollusks, lichens, beetles, diatoms, ants, grass – or bigger – squirrels, crows, sharks, coyotes – each gets the same grand treatment.  There's a double-page spread containing a poem by Sidman, maybe humorous, maybe lyrical, usually informative – and capturing its subject perfectly.
Squirrel's "Tail Tale," for example, is one long breathless, unpunctuated sentence. "Ok, your brains are big while ours are the size of walnuts which we love to eat by the way with teeth that can chew through any sort of bird feeder you care to erect ..."
On the right-hand page of each spread is a prose explanation, also by Sidman, and as elegantly written as the poetry. There we also learn family name and length of time on earth, plus much more. (For squirrels, it's family Sciuridae, from the Greek skiouros, meaning "shade-tail" and they're 36 million years old.)
The text is graced, surrounded and uplifted by Prange's linocut illustrations, handpainted with watercolors.
The last spread is reserved for humans, perhaps as a point of comparison. As Sidman writes: "Humans have been on earth only a tiny fraction of its history, but in this short time we have become one of the most dominant species of the planet." It's not a predictable diatribe about how destructive we are, though, but a thoughtful essay on why that statement is true. And her human poem, titled "Baby," is a charmer.
The book includes a fine glossary, author's and illustrator's notes, and an amazing illustrated timeline inside the front and back covers. Prange uses the image of coiled colored string to illustrate when various forms of life appeared on earth. It's remarkable to see how long it was after the earth formed before bacteria appeared – and how very much longer after that before there were mollusks.
Sidman and Prange are also the creators of the Caldecott Honor book Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems.

1 comment:

Vince Stead said...

I really liked your article. My name is Vince Stead, and I wrote a kid's book called "The Back Yard Kids Club" that you can find as a book at regular price, or as a digital download for only $2.99, and great for kids to learn how to download it to a device. You can see the link to Barnes & Noble or Amazon here: