Books Picture Book Challenge 2011 Picture Books Poetry-Filled Yuletide Cheer Reading Themes

Art and Imagination in Jack Prelutsky’s Poetry: A 2-in-1 Special

Our theme for the month. Poster courtesy of the ever-talented Iphigene.

I was wondering when I would get to do a 2-in-1 special for our Poetry-filled Yuletide Cheer theme, and I figured that our contribution for this week’s Book Talk Tuesday (hosted by rockstar librarian Kelly Butcher) seemed to be a good time as any.

Despite our best intentions, it seems highly unlikely that we’d get to review all of Jack Prelutsky’s work, so a 2-in-1 shall do – for the meantime.

The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky and Brandon Dorman

This gorgeous book is a fairly easy read. The entire poem is divided into two lines presented on each page – the text emerging from an unrolled scroll within vividly-illustrated two-page spreads. I just could not help but ooh and aah each time I turn a page – the colors seem to leave dusty and glittery imprints in my fingers.

As you can glean from this page, Prelutsky’s wizard is reminiscent of beloved wizard characters such as Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Gandalf from Lord of the Rings – what with the robe, the flowing white hair, and the predictable white beard.

Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

However, children beware, this is no benevolent wizard – he is as wicked as wicked does. The surprising thing about this book, if the reader would look closely at the very first page – is that while the wizard lives in your proverbial tower – this tall and thin edifice is located right smack in the middle of your average suburban street – alongside the well-kept lawns, family vehicles, and quiet trees swaying gently into the afternoon skies. I found that quite intriguing and I kept going back to that first page spread as the wizard’s spells become increasingly more complicated:

He spies a bullfrog by the door
and stooping, scoops it off the floor.
He flicks his wand, the frog’s a flea
through elemental sorcery.

And so begins the frog’s transformation from an amphibian to a flea, to a pair of mice to a majestic cockatoo, which is turned into a chalk (as it squawks – yup, it rhymes!) which the wizard then uses to write a spell – that turns into a silver bell that flashes fire and turns back into … the poor, hapless bullfrog.

As a psychologist, I could find layers of themes I could probably introduce to older readers – the entire poem a metaphor for one’s evolution and inner journeyings as instigated or even inspired by fate, chance, and circumstance – as portrayed by this kind-looking yet insidiously-sinister wizard.

Who his next victim would be, I shall leave for you to discover.

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky and Carin Berger

This book has a very different format from The Wizard. Here, the reader gets to enjoy not just one but seventeen poems written by the inimitable Prelutsky who has once again demonstrated his outstanding command of language through word play, wit, and creation of nonsensical words that reveal an imagination so vast, the universe can fit in there quite nicely (with room to spare).

My nine year old daughter had a blast reading through these pages as both of us try to conceive of a world where an alarm clock and armadillos are magically (or even scientifically) merged together. If DNA cloning, genetic enhancements, artificial insemination are household bywords now [whereas previously they seemed as remote as science fiction] – then maybe, just maybe, in a parallel universe, we can get to see creatures borne out of Prelutsky’s imagination: a cross between a toaster and a toad (a pop-up toadster is what it is, naturally!), panther + thermometer = panthermometer; tuba + baboon – Tubaboon; tortoise + saw = The Circular Sawtoise; clock + octopus = The Clocktopus!

My absolute favorite, though, among the seventeen poems is The Ballpoint Penguins:

The BALLPOINT PENGUINS, black and white,
Do little else but write and write.
Although they’ve nothing much to say,
They write and write it anyway.
The BALLPOINT PENGUINS do not think,
They simply write with endless ink.
They write of ice, they write of snow,
For that is all they seem to know.
At times, these shy and silent birds
Will verbally express their words,
But mostly they do not recite –
They aim their beaks and write and write.


The poem reminded me of most academics I know! Haha. Publish or perish, indeed. These ballpoint penguins must be working in universities!! 🙂

There is a world of possibilities here for the educator who can then play with the children’s imagination and help them perceive mundane things in a different light. Young kids could be asked about the usual dreary things they see everyday which when combined together can actually morph into something novel, ingenious, and totally of their own creation – I could just imagine how empowering this could be for highly creative kids (even teenagers!) – particularly those with special talents in illustration and verse. If you wish to know more about Jack Prelutsky’s works and how you can use them in the classroom, click here to be taken to a downloadable PDF Teaching Guide as prepared by HarperCollins for quite a number of Prelutsky’s works.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Jack Prelutsky is the first ever U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate (source here). He was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in the Bronx. If you wish to know more about him, this is Jack Prelutsky’s official website.

In the lovely interview done by Scholastic, Prelutsky was asked whether he always liked/enjoyed poetry, and here is his beautiful response:

No, in fact there was a time when I couldn’t stand the stuff. In grade school, I had a teacher who left me with the impression that poetry was the literary equivalent of liver. I was told that it was good for me, but I wasn’t convinced. When I rediscovered poetry in my twenties, I decided I would write about things that kids really cared about, and that I would make poetry delightful.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click here to be taken to the lovely Carin Berger‘s website.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Click here to know more about the gorgeous Brandon Dorman and his art work.

PictureBook Reading Challenge Update: 128/129 (120)

The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky and Illustrations by Brandon Dorman. Greenwillow Books, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publisher, 2007. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky and Illustrations by Carin Berger. Greenwillow Books, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publisher, 2006. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

6 comments on “Art and Imagination in Jack Prelutsky’s Poetry: A 2-in-1 Special

  1. Those books have awesome illustrations!


  2. I love the illustrations. A wicked wizard…scary!


  3. Pingback: FOUND POEMS 36: Prelutsky, McGough, Rosen | Poetry at Play

  4. Pingback: List of Novels in Verse and Poetry Books for Children and Round-up for January 2012 «

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