________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 13 . . . . February 16, 2007


Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems.

Avis Harley. Photographs by Margaret Butschler.
Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2006.
32 pp., cloth, $20.95.
ISBN 978-59078-429-7.

Subject Headings:
Children’s poetry, Canadian.
Marine plants-Juvenile poetry.
Marine animals-Juvenile poetry.

Grades 2 and up / Ages 7 and up.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4


Sea Gardens

Feather-star plumes

of delicate threads

are caught in the blooms

of pink coral heads.

What gardener grooms

these undersea beds?


Mysteries of the underwater world are celebrated in the book’s extraordinary photographs and the thought-provoking poems they inspired. This beautifully designed book places one photographic composition and its accompanying poetic creation together on a single page. Although the poems and photographs are of various sizes, they are unified by a two-colour graphic design of complementary colours. Often a double page of photos/poems is harmonized graphically, and the resulting effect is stunning. Kudos to book designer Lucas Weidner who unobtrusively magnifies the impact of the arresting images and evocative poetry.

     Photographer Margaret Butschler captures unique marine moments both of familiar and unfamiliar sea animals. Remarkable images of a sad-looking clown fish, octopus suckers or strange grassy pipefish lend themselves to poetic interpretation. Butschler uses a variety of light conditions to enhance her pictures and to suggest mood and tone. For instance, the dappled sunlight reflecting off a shark's metallic-coloured body conveys its cold and deadly nature whereas the wet gleam of the otters' fuzzy fur increases their teddy-bear appeal.

     Avis Harley draws on her years as a poet and elementary teacher to choose a variety of poetic forms suggested by the subject matter in each photograph. Thus, for the entangled starfish that strike her as two sumo wrestlers in combat, she uses Japanese haiku, and for the misunderstood crab she uses rhyming couplets "to echo the grasping claws of this powerful crustacean" (Introduction). Because the poems are written in response to the photos, however, most of them do not stand well alone. The aquatic animals are not named in the verses nor in the titles, and, without the specific pictures, it would be difficult to make the connections so apparent on the page. Together, though, these imaginative duos are fine examples of sources of inspiration for aspiring poets.

     Notes about the flora and fauna are given alongside thumbnail photos at the end of the book.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is the librarian of the Curriculum Materials Centre at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, NL.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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