A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young, by Halfdan Rasmussen, translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland, and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick, 2011).
I don't review a huge number of poetry picture books (maybe one or two a year), but when I saw the cover of A Little Bitty Man I wanted to read it--I can never say no to snail riders.
Here's the first verse of the titular poem:
"A little bitty man
took a ride on a snail
down little bitty rod that was shady.
The little bitty man
came to Littlebittyland,
where he married a little bitty lady."
And now the snail is shown tethered to a hitching post outside a little bitty house!
The thirteen poems in this book are about half fantasy--there's the little bitty man, of course, and a cloud child, an elf with mice in his pockets, and a doll who runs away, and about half observations on real life--how the seasons change, how to end a fight, and the days of the week, for instance. They were translated from the Danish, and I can't, of course, evaluate how closely they capture the originals. I can say that they were pleasing poems, in rhyme and scansion, with just one jarring word ("partake," for instance, is pretty sophisticated vocabulary for the young, although it's easy to see what it means in context).
But what I can say with confidence is that these poems, especially the fantasy ones, are lovely little sparks for the imagination. The cloud child poem, for instance, tells of a little cloud that just couldn't hold it anymore, and, lacking a potty, let loose on the road...it runs home again, and is scolded by its mom. It seems to me that a cloud child is a lovely thing to have in one's imagination--what adventures will it have next? And what will the little bitty man do next? What might his house look like inside? How do you tame a wild snail? Why does a child have lion for his pet:
Kevin Hawke's illustrations are, for the most part, light in color, and high on detail. They aren't in your face, bright and lavish--rather, they let the reader come to them, balancing the poems nicely.
A Little Bitty Man picked up a starred review from the Horn Book: "Most of the selections aren't more than a few stanzas long, but each one hits you with a bright burst of humor that's like a sip of a fizzy drink on a hot day. . . . Hawkes's pencil and acrylic illustrations highlight the humor and the whimsy of the nonsense verses, but they also underscore the poems' innocence and childlike dignity when called for, and the artist gets the mix exactly right."
And another star from School Library Journal: "The quaint poems have liberal helpings of both wit and whimsy and an occasional sprinkling of mild potty humor. . . . The whole has an uncluttered and inviting effect. Likely to become a classic, this is a great addition to any picture-book collection."
I still think the snail is the best part, but I appreciated the potty humor too, and, more seriously, I found the book as a whole both attractive and interesting.
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)
For more poetry goodness, here's this week's Poetry Friday Round-up!