Monday, April 19, 2010


Words and pictures by Douglas Florian

Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2010

$16.99, ages 4-8, 48 pages

A poem may not be as lovely as a tree, but Florian's tribute to these stalwarts of the forest is certain to inspire affection.

When reading these splendid little poems, be sure to hold the book upright for the listener to see, for it's the melding of words and pictures that makes this tribute so extraordinary.

Florian, author-illustrator of the hit book Dinothesaurus, overlays short poems on paintings of trees, tree parts and in one case the organic outline of child, so that the poems are as much about the pictures as the words.

On one two-page spread, a poem about roots is set over the torso of a child. Her outline is drawn in water-saturated lines of paint in varying shades of earth-brown. The lines, like roots, wind down two pages, which, like all of the book's spreads, are oriented vertically.

The poem begins just below the child's eyes and continues over her midriff, with an occasional word changing in spacing and direction to give it emphasis.

Every time Florian uses a word that means, "to expand," he spaces the letters widely, and when he uses one that means, "downward movement," he breaks from the horizontal structure of the poem to write vertically.

The words and pictures work so well together that you're swept along by Florian's passion for trees. In "Giant Sequoia," his awe for this ancient tree easily becomes your awe.

He paints a single massive sequoia rising "heavenly high," far above every other tree in the forest, and illuminated by an outline of radiant gold. Spaced up the trunk are human hands with their palms flat and facing the reader, as if to say "Halt," to any who would want to cut it down.

In some of the poems, the lines follow the shape of the subject, as in "Tree Rings," in which words move in a circular path, or "The Seed," in which the poem follows a figure eight, suggestive of the helicopter shaped maple seed.

All of the poems are fairly spare, and perhaps because their lines are short (sometimes just a word or two long), you might find yourself picking up the pace as you read and adding your own exclamation mark.

Clever bit: I loved that every "Poetree" must be turned and viewed vertically, as if to say that trees and their parts reach so far into the earth and sky that a book can barely keep them in.

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