One of my go to poetry books for children has always been Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky. Even kids who claim to ‘hate’ poetry and roll their eyes through my dramatic renditions of Emily Dickinson or Langston Hughes will chuckle and go “Oh cooooool….” at the silly animals created by Prelutsky. Now he is back with a new book written in the same form: Stardines Swim High Across the Sky, graced with incredible illustrations by Carin Berger.
Stardines is in some ways slightly more sophisticated than Scranimals. While the earlier title mostly focused on combining animals together or animals and plants (Broccolions, Potatoads), these creatures’ names comment on their characteristics, such as the rather messy Slobsters (…Their sense of decorum/Is woefully small/SLOBSTERS don’t have/Many manners at all…) and the erudite Braindeer (…With endless perseverance/They serenely mill about,/ Reflecting on the universe/And figuring it out…). The heightened language may be a stretch for some younger readers, making this a good choice for a read aloud, class discussion or bedtime story.
Fortunately, even if children might not always be able to decipher the words, the illustrations are stunning enough to fill hours all on their own. Carin Berger has created a shadowbox diorama for each creature, photographed them digitally and added such engaging touches as straight pins, labels and paintbrushes to the endpapers. In the style of such surrealist masters as Joseph Cornell and Max Ernst, Berger uses sheet music, advertisements, and constellation maps to depict Prelutsky’s fascinating creatures. My favorites are probably the Planda, with his paper fountain pen and his long list of precisely numbered images or the Bardvark, an inkpot standing on a stack of books and sporting a feathered hat and paper ruff. Readers will want to get to know them all.