Sunday, May 1, 2011

Meowing Good Haiku

It's May 1st, and I have that sad feeling I get every year when I realize that Poetry Month is officially over. We had a lot going on at the Library this month. The Poetry Carnival with Acrostic Bean Bag Toss, the Poetry Community Scavenger Hunt, the Poetry Contest and the Haiku Easter Egg Hunt. It's time to take a deep breath. In honor of the end of National Poetry Month, I'm going to write about a promising new poetry book that just came in. Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw, mixes up some good poetry mojo. There are sadly, so few good haiku children's books out there. I was skeptical when I opened it. Some of the haiku children's books end up leaning on the cutesy side and don't really respect haiku as an art form.

I'm happy to report this is not the case with Won Ton. The haiku tell the story of a cat named Won Ton who is stuck at a shelter and looking for a home. The haiku format is perfect for the book, as Won Ton records his feelings in short quips that stand alone well. Several of the last lines in the poems such as, "we are all alone," and "snags, clings to what's known" really invoke that separate rhetorical thought that haiku are so famous for.

I also enjoyed the book design. The illustrations stretched over the gutters (the binding) of the pages and arched around the text. It reminded me of the Japanese prints that inspired the impressionists, how their sense of design had a tendency to continue off the page and disappear into empty space. There's one in particular of Won Ton the cat twisting towards a bowl of food from off the page... his tail and hind legs aren't visible, they're cut off by the edge of the page like the Japanese courtesans of printmaking. I think in the end, that's what makes this book so successful--- it knows how to make some elements of the story disappear off the side of the page and leap into the imagination.

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