Monday, July 6, 2009

Douglas Florian

Florian, Douglas. DINOTHESAURUS: PREHISTORIC POEMS AND PAINTINGS. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009. ISBN 1416979786.

Douglas Florian, in his latest poetry book, has brought the long-dead world of dinosaurs to life. The collection begins with a poem that introduces the prehistoric epochs of Earth’s history (The Age of Dinosaurs) and ends with a poem asking the reader what he or she thinks happened to the dinosaurs (The End of Dinosaurs). In between are poems about the more commonly known dinosaurs such as Triceratops and Brachiosaurus, as well as dinosaurs I’d never heard of before such as Troodon and Minmi.

The poems have several different rhyming schemes. Florian makes use primarily of couplets (rhyming schemes of aabbccdd, etc), quatrains (four-line stanza with rhyming schemes of abcb, aabb, or abab), and sextains (six-line stanzas with rhyming schemes of aabccb or aaabab). For his rhymes, Mr Florian uses primarily ending rhymes. He also uses twists on the dinosaur names to end his poems, as in the following 3 examples:

     “But if one day Iguanadon
     I came upon, I’d wanna
     Ask that big IguanoDON:
     Where is IguanoDONNA?” (Iguanodon, lines 3-6)

     “When it was hungry or got into fights,
     It opened its jaws and took giga-bites.” (Gigantosaurus, lines 5-6)

     “I find it terrific
     That it’s T-rex-tinct.” (Tyrannosaurus rex, lines 11-12)

His meter is primarily iambic tetrameter, but there are also poems that have irregular meters and rhyming schemes, such as Micropachycelphalosaurus (abccdd).

Florian has chosen his words carefully. As an example, in his poem, Stegoceras, he repeats the word head 3 times in each line. Through Florian's emphasis of this word, we learn that Stegoceras had an unusually shaped head instead of having to read it in an ‘educational book.’ This masterful trait is characteristic of his other natural history poetry collections, as well.

Florian uses the arrangements of his poems to illustrate his point. For example, in Mimmi, the entire poem reads, “What’s Minmi’s BIGGEST claim to fame?/It has the smallest dinosaur name.” His use of imagery is very effective also. In the final poem, The End of Dinosaurs, one line reads, “The climate on the Earth grew c-c-cold,” You can almost hear the dinosaurs’ chattering teeth.

Florian has illustrated his poems with collage and crayon illustrations of the various dinosaurs. They appear together with modern day items such as computers, IPods, and newspaper clippings. The poems appear in no discernible order, but the ‘Glossarysaurus’ entries in the back of the book are listed in the same order the poems are presented. Florian also provides a list of ‘Dinosaur Museums and Fossil Sites’ and a ‘Selected Bibliography and Further Reading’ page. As reviewer Deborah Stevenson puts it, “This will serve equally well to liven up paleontology or to dinosaur up poetry” (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, February 2009).

Gillian Engberg (Booklist, Mar. 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 13))
Starred Review* Florian, whose previous picture-book poetry collections have covered the animal kingdom, from dogs and cats to lizards and pollywogs, takes a few evolutionary steps back in this exuberant verse roundup of prehistoric creatures…. Even as they are delighting in the lines’ silliness, children will absorb solid facts, as in a poem that introduces earth’s epochs: “The dinosaurs / First lived outdoors / During the time Triassic. / While most died out, / Some came about / Later in the Jurassic….” this is a standout title on a perennially popular subject that has inspired surprisingly few poetry collections for kids. Grades K-3

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2009 (Vol. 77, No. 2))
…. a set of dinophile-pleasing verses penned by a poet with a rare knack for wordplay and silly rhymes finds apt visual setting fronting playful images of monsters rearing up from extinction to grin toothily at young viewers…. closes with an informative "Glossarysaurus," plus museum and source lists. Spectacularly depicted (as is his frequent custom) on paper bags in crayon and collage, the poet's dinos are easily recognizable despite being freely rendered and, often, semitransparent. Collage elements add to the visual excitement, often to great effect—a skeletal, iPod-sporting T. Rex prepares to chow down on a heap of cut-out dinosaur bits....

Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, February 2009 (Vol. 62, No. 6))
…Florian returns here with a score of new poems about the legendary great and gone of the animal world. Aside from the intro and closing poems, each verse is devoted to a particular species of dinosaur.… As usual, the poems are brisk, skilled, and entertaining, suitable for reading aloud or alone, and they offer dinosaur lovers an easily crossable bridge into the world of poetry while providing a sparkling overview for kids with limited interest in dead reptiles. The illustrations are remarkable even by Florian’s standards: he’s added more elaborate detailing, varying moods, and a more complex palette to his usual quirky mix of limpid watercolors and touches of lettering and found materials, resulting in a gleaming gallery of otherworldly prehistoriana. This will serve equally well to liven up paleontology or to dinosaur up poetry. End matter includes a glossary—excuse me, “glossarysaurus,” a list of dinosaur museums and fossil sites, and a brief, accessible bibliography. A book of special distinction.

1. If your school is close enough, plan a field trip to one of the museums or fossil sites listed in the back of this book.
2. Contact your local natural history museum and ask a paleontologist (a scientist who specializes in dinosaurs) to come speak to your reading club or class.

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