In the Woods by David Elliott,  illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

 In the Woods by David Elliott,  illustrated by Rob Dunlavey, Candlewick, 9780763697839, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Oversized hardcover

Genre: Poetry

What did you like about the book?  Publishers and poets sure like picture books with animal rhymes, so here’s another candidate for your 800 shelves. This one is well suited to New England readers as it catalogs animals found in our forests, including opossums, bears, deer, fishers and millipedes. Each double-page spread features a short poem (some free verse, some limericks, even couplets) and a handsome watercolor illustration of the creature engaged in whatever behavior is described in the text. The art is sophisticated and attractive, managing to be slightly abstract without sacrificing recognizable physical traits. Some of the poems are droll, for example, the entirety of “The Moose” is “Ungainly, mainly.” And we’re warned to beware the porcupine’s “surface nonchalance; when rushed she gives a barbed response.” Others are more focused on the animal’s beauty: the scarlet tanager’s “flash of red in the spring green of the trees, as if the forest air is branded, burned.” I especially liked the oversized pages, which help to magnify the detail of the animal under discussion and its habitat. A “Notes About the Animals” section at the end gives a few facts about the highlighted behavior and provides some additional clarification on vocabulary (skunks have poor eyesight, a female fox is a vixen, etc.).

Anything you didn’t like about it? The word choice in some of the poems seems a bit sophisticated for the age level of the book, although the poems all have a nice rhythm and stand on their own, even without the pictures. We’re told that the “prevailing sentiment” is to avoid the wasp, even though the woods would seem unoccupied “without your “buzzing tenement.” The fox on her hunt is described as a “fierce prophecy” of things to come…if you’re the prey. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  This could be used as a nifty way for a teacher to combine poetry and nature study, and would work well as a read aloud for students in grades 3-5. Students could work on decoding the vocabulary, analyzing verbal imagery, looking for alliteration, etc. Families browsing the library shelves for poetry might also enjoy finding poems about animals that are commonly seen or heard on hikes or camping trips.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 800s (poetry) or possibly in picture books.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you’re looking for new critter-themed poetry collections.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: July 10, 2020

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