“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Sunday, December 6, 2009

African Acrostics • Poetry

African Acrostics
by Avis Harley • illustrated by Deborah Noyes
July 2009 • Candlewick Press • Ages 8–10
 Look carefully! In this book wild animals of Africa spring to life in clever, lighthearted poems and compelling, evocative photographs.
Story:  Avis Harley, who has written and illustrated several books of poetry for children, has created acrostics that range from quirky to poetic. The hornbill is too hot to hoot and the ostrich looks condescendingly at the poor humans with their tiny toes. The rhinoceros has boulders for shoulders and the giraffes, who are “cloud friends,” spend their time eavesdropping on the wind.

But this book of acrostic poems about African animals is more than it seems. While every acrostic contains a secret message, often lurking in the first letter of each line (read top to bottom), these acrostics also take the form to a whole new level. Here you’ll find the elusive double acrostic, cross acrostic, and multiple acrostic. Illustrated with gorgeous full-color photographs and complete with a list of facts about each animal, this collection is sure to send poetry buffs and animal lovers on an armchair safari they’ll never forget.

Story behind the story:  To capture the spectacular images that appear in the book, writer, photographer, and former zookeeper Deborah Noyes traveled to wildlife preserves and game parks in Namibia.

“There's a world of difference between seeing these animals in the wild and observing them in a zoo,” Deb says.  “The level of alertness is amazing. I hope I was able to capture just a little bit of that for kids in these pictures.”

One of her most vivid memories happened when her guides took her to photograph a rhinoceros on a game farm.  As she waited on the porch, admiring the sunset, the rhinoceros, as was his custom, appeared in the clearing behind the farmhouse.  They tiptoed down, hopped in the open jeep, and very slowly drove as near as they could get without spooking him. Despite being a couple of hundred yards away, Deb still wasn’t able to get the right shot, so her guide suggested they walk closer.

“This idea seemed, to me, suspect at best, but then I thought, ‘Why not? You won't get another chance,’” recalled Deb.  “I managed to keep my hands steady enough to make do without a tripod. Then we turned tail, hopped in the jeep again, racing the sunset so we didn't end up stranded in the dark in the middle of the bush. Standing in the wind, holding on to the back bar of the jeep while we bounced along on that rocky bush road, I imagined hidden wildlife all around waking up to feed, and thought, ‘This is one of those moments you live for.’”

“This belongs in every collection—for the poetry, for the photographs, for the information.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Useful as an entree to writing an unusual and enjoyable type of verse, this short collection offers pleasurable reading, with a nature lesson thrown in as well.” – School Library Journal, starred review
FYI:  all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.


Kim Watson said...

I was thrilled to find this book in my mailbox today! I graduated with my teaching certification on Saturday, and I cannot wait to share it with my future students. It will allow me to introduce poetry to younger students while integrating science into language arts. With the turn of a page, students will be able to learn about different aniamls and their habitats. This book can also be used as an example for students to create their own acrostic poems. The photographs are large and colorful. The text is beautifully written and informative. My favorite poem is "Now Listen to Me, Son." It is written from the view of a father ostrich. The father tells his young "fowl" to "avoid all humans" because they will "gawk and giggle" at is charactistics. The father ridicules humans by asking his son, "Have you seen those people-toes? Little tiny things in rows!"

This is a very cute book. I cannot wait to read it to my future classrooms. Thank you for sharing this book with us.

Rating: 5/5

Anonymous said...

Kim's review is right on! This book is perfect for cross curricular work. Photos are outstanding. Do not hesitate to buy this book. by N.S.

Carrie Blagg said...

Fabulous! Fabulous! Fabulous! The best acrostics book hands down. The photography gives you an up close and unique perspective of these beautiful animals. The poems are fun and insightful. A wonderful addition to any library, classroom, or bookshelf at home. I give this book 5 out of 5.

Tina's Blog said...

African Acrostics is a book of poems by Avis Harley and beautiful animal photographs by Deborah Noyes.

Looking through this book, I feel there are a variety of different uses for this book. Some students will enjoy looking at the beautiful photographs of these African animals. Some will enjoy reading the acrostics about the animals, enjoying the interesting word choice. At the book's end there are a few pages giving more information about each animal and also information about acrostics and how to write them.

Every year students at my school try their hand at writing their own acrostics and this book gives some great examples of wonderful poetry as well as the information on writing this poetry. I predict this book will be a huge hit in my library.
Rating 5/5

Christina said...

Loved. This. Book.

After I read it, I asked each of my daughters to try it out and give their opinion. My 7 yo had trouble with the words, but with my help and some discussion she loved it. My 9 yo wouldn't put it down (and she is a tough one to get to read!) She kept commenting on how cool the pictures were and how the poems really told the story about each of the animals. She even expressed an interest in trying her own hand at some acrostics.

Definite must have book.
5 out of 5

Lisa Kalinowski said...

This book is a MUST for any classroom library collection. The photos are beautiful. The word choice is excellent! It will be a great mentor text for introducing acrostics and expanding on different forms of poetry. It is also wonderful for students who do not have the opportunity to see such places on their own. I work at an economically disadvantaged school and some of the books that capture their interests the most are those that have pictures and details about different places around the world. Beautifully written and well constructed overall!!

Megan B. said...

I love the variety this book has to offer. The photography is amazing, and children will love seeing the different animals. I love that this book will teach both poetry (acrostics) and facts about these animals. I give this book a 5.

Ellen Arnold said...

WOW! I love this book! Not only do the photos catch a glimpse of each animal's "personality", but the phrases used in the acrostic poems are amazingly descriptive (juicy as my third graders would say). The "Nature Notes" at the end of the book provide a jumping off point for further research. My favorite part of the book is the variety of acrostic styles. Who knew there was such a thing as a "double acrostic" or a "hidden acrostic"!

My third grade students love to write acrostics. This book will take their work to the next level!

Rating 5/5

Pat Kramer said...

Every writing teacher must have this book. Most of my students' acrostics spell out names but this book shows students that the acrostic may spell out another word that adds even more definition to the poem. The descriptive word choice of the poems is matched by the photographs.

Rating of 5/5 picnic baskets!

Peaceful Reader said...

African Acrostics; a word in edgeways
Poems by Avis Harley; photographys by Deborah Noyes
Candlewick Press, 2009

I knew the moment I took this book out of its bubble-infused envelope it was going to be amazing and it is. Just look at that attention-grabbing front cover! Students will flock to this book whether they are researching animals, poetry or just looking for a great book to enjoy.

The opening poem reminded me of Shel Silverstein's "invitation to young readers" poem, the name of which right now completely escapes me and a google search was futile.

African Acrostics begins like this:
"Welcome, all poets-both new
or well versed. Non-rhymers or
Rhymers! Come,
dive in headfirst!"

What follows is a well-written and unique poetry book with very real, close-up animal portraits. The beginning poem tells the reader just what an acrostic poem is, which will be helpful. Generally, I think of acrostic poems and see someone's name as the basis for the poem. Harley has used a variety of words to form her poems, which makes us search and think of how that word relates to each animal. I found this an inspiring method to bring this form of poetry to life. For example, the ostrich poem anchor word is "fatherly advice" and the poem then relays a father's wisdom on how his son should ignore humans (they only want your feathers) and to enjoy life as who you are! I now want to sit with my family and make acrostic poems on Christmas morning. Animal, natural world and poetry lovers unite over this beautiful done book. I can't wait to share it with students and teachers in the new year.
Highly Recommended-elementary
5/5 peaceful stars

dmuldawer said...

What gorgeous pictures! As someone who teaches sixth grade, the pictures caught my eye before the poetry.

At first glance, the poetry seemed simplistic and fit for younger students. Although there were some beautiful images, there was a lack of literary devices and deep themes and many of the things we're expected to start teaching in middle school.

But after rereadind the book, I was impressed by the versatility of the acrostic poem. While students are quite familiar with the form, I tend to get poems like:


What I liked about African Acrostics was the extended images and especially the more complex forms like the multiple acrostics. I also appreciated the explanations and directions at the end of the book.

While middle school students don't specifically study African animals, most are still interested in cool-looking animals from other places and would appreciate the definitions at the end of the book.

I could see using this book as an example for more sophisticated acrostic poems during our poetry unit and believe that my lower readers would relate to this as well. Students who speak English as a second language would benefit from the pictures and I like the entire cross-curricular concept.

African Acrostics has much to offer to diverse student populations at the elementary and middle school levels and is worth adding to school and classroom libraries.

Picnic Basket Rating: 5

Natalie H. said...

Excellent photographs and kid-friendly poems. Can't wait to use during our poetry units in 3rd and 4th grade. 4 stars!

Barbara Duggan said...

I agree with dmuldawer's comments. The beautiful photos will engage my middle schoolers and the varied forms of acrostic poetry writing will serve as models when they study poetry in their ESL and language arts classes.

The Nature Notes at the end add a little more information, if needed, and can be used to encourage further reading.

Rating: 5/5

Amy said...

I agree with all the comments, but especially Dmuldawer's. She worded her review perfectly! I can't add anything else.

5 out of 5. Highly Recommended

School Librarian

Carol said...

What an ideal model for Poetry (Acrostics), for the trait of organization, idea, and word choice. The text is informative and interesting and demonstrates another way that writers can share their knowledge. The photos are of high quality and interest level. What a great integration of Science and literacy. This is a must have for any teacher working on poetry and will serve as the ideal model for acrostics. I give this book a 4-recommend without reservation.

Heather Hill said...

"African Acrostics" is a unique and creative approach to acrostics and poetry that will spark the interest of kids and adults alike. The beautiful pictures immediately draw your eyes on every single page. When you read the acrostic, you feel yourself actually picturing these things from the photos.

This is a book that I have already returned to several times and have enjoyed another acrostic in a different way each time.

Children and adults of all ages will appreciate this unique and smart book. It should be in every library. This book is a 5 out of 5.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

Angela said...

There is so much more to this book than you notice on the first read. I can see so many teaching points in reading, writing, and science. The poems are great models for acrostics, which students love to write. They are tight in ideas - highlighting the telling detail about each animal. The words used to form the poems, written vertically, are unique and most often go beyond using the name of the animal. The word choice is excellent - many strong verbs and new words to expose students to. I love the titles as well. The information about acrostics in the back is very useful and would help with differentiating instruction - as there are so many ways to go deep with acrostics. Excellent photos engage readers young and old. A strong 4 out of 5.

SunshineFamily said...

African Acrostics holds many uses from teaching about Acrostic poetry to other countries and building vocabulary. It is visually dynamic and engaging to all levels of learning. I give it a 5 on the Picnic Basket Rating scale.

juli said...

This post is really overdue!! Once I showed the book to my students and a couple of fellow teachers I couldn't keep my hands on it to read and review it--soooo I was finlally able to retrieve it and am certainly glad I did. The poems and photographs are great. I have always loved acrostic poems and this is a great addition to my poetry collection.

Rating: 5/5
5th grade teacher

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