Wednesday, December 21, 2011

COUSINS OF CLOUDS by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

This fall, I've talked a lot about how poetry can make you see the world in entirely different ways. That definitely happened for me yesterday. I will never again look at an elephant without thinking about Tracy Vaughn Zimmer's, COUSINS OF CLOUDS: ELEPHANT POEMS. The title poem, "Cousins of Clouds," explains that elephants used to be able to fly, but long ago, after a fight erupted, a great prophet took away their powers.
the prophet invoked a dreadful curse,
shriveling the elephants' prized wings
into pitiful ears,
chaining the elephant
to gravity and man's will
for all eternity.

To this very day
you can see the poor elephants
flapping their ears,
dreaming of flight,
but now only
cousins of clouds.
This poem is followed by twenty more elephant related poems. Naturally, there are poems about the elephant's body parts. The first of these is a series of six haiku loosely based on "The Blind Men and the Elephant." Other body parts' poems include "Ivory" and "Trunk" about the animal's tusks and trunk. "Mud Spa" and "Fortress" describe the elephant habits. Several poems, such as "This is Just to Say," and "Memory" detail the species' extraordinary memory.

Still more poems, like "Beggars of Bangkok" provide snapshots of elephants' treatment in various countries. In Bangkok, elephants were once used for logging. Sadly, the areas have been deforested, and now the elephants and their mahouts (handlers) are forced to panhandle on the streets. "Orphan" is a snapshot of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, while "Sonnet for Sanctuary" is a gorgeous poem about an animal sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Poems like "White Elephant" and "A Riddle" describe historical traditions related to elephants.

I especially loved the design of this book. Many poetry books about animals contained fact pages or additional information in authors' notes. In COUSINS OF CLOUDS, however, this information is included in a text box right on the page with the poem. I loved being able to read the poem and the background information without having to flip back and forth.

I'm looking forward to using COUSINS OF CLOUDS with my students. A terrific mentor text, or multi genre study, or just a plain fun read!

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