I must admit that I wasn't familiar with "concrete poetry" when I first opened Betsy Franco's A Dazzling Display of Dogs. But the meaning of concrete poems (" in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem" - Wikipedia) was apparent from the first page. A Dazzling Display of Dogs features dozens of poems about dogs. All of them are displayed on the page in some fashion that reflects and enhances the topic of the poem. For example, a poem about a retired greyhound is written inside an oval band, like a racetrack. One about white medical collars fills the shape of the collar. One about lost dogs encompasses the text of a "missing" poster. And so on.
This style makes the poems a bit harder to read than conventional poems, of course. You have to figure out where the poem starts, and sometimes tilt your head, or turn the book, to continue. But one thing that I found impressive about Franco's poems is that I never had difficulty figuring out where to pause in reading the poems aloud, even in cases without obvious visual queues (like the poem about a circling dog written in a continuous spiral). Her cadences are strong and sure.
And the poems themselves are a lot of fun. I can imagine preschoolers and early elementary school kids, dog-lovers or not, laughing aloud at poems like "Pug Appeal", "Letting Gwen In and Out", and "Bedtime with Brownie". I hesitate to give quotes, since I can't convey the imagery that's part of the poems, but picture an entire poem about the only words that a dog hears (squirrel, walk, etc.). Or a haiku about a puppy piddling on the newspaper. I think that kids who are familiar with common dog behaviors will be particularly charmed.
A Dazzling Display of Dogs is educational, too. There's are examples of haiku and cinquain, and illustrations of a variety of types of dogs. One could spend considerable time with this book without becoming bored.
Michael Wertz's illustrations (started in pencil and finished using monoprints and Adobe Photoshop) are linked together by a common palette (lots of slate blue and soft orange) and graphical style, even though the shapes of the individual poems vary considerably. The dogs are all quite distinct from one another, and many of their personalities come across.
I found A Dazzling Display of Dogs to be clever and enjoyable. The same team published A Curious Collection of Cats in 2009, and I'm sure that it's a fun read, too. This pair of books would make a great gift for any young animal-lover, and would also be a wonderful introduction to poetry for kids of all ages. Recommended!
I'm posting this review today in honor of Poetry Friday, a Kidlitosphere-wide weekly celebration of poetry. This week's Poetry Friday roundup is at Rasco from RIF. Check out Carol's post for lots of other poetry links.
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).