Review of the Day: Flamingos On the Roof
Friday, Friday, Poetry Friday. La de da de dum.
When poetry and I meet face to face, poetry has its work cut out for it. I am not a poetry fan. Sometimes it seems to me that the world of children's poems began and ended with Shel Silverstein and that's that. As you can see, I'm a tough nut to crack. Then my boss starts gushing. Starts gushing about a little something called, "Flamingos On the Roof". I am not immediately sold. First of all, I've apparently been living in a cave for the past few years and have missed all the other books that Calef Brown has written. Secondly, I'm not sold on Mr. Brown's style of artistic expression. This feeling deepens as I open up the book and find myself facing yellow endpapers that are crammed with images from tip to toe. These images show up later in the book's poems, but I don't know that yet. So I tentatively turn the page and begin reading. And reading. And reading. And about the time I've gotten to the poem about a tattooed biker who likes to build model motorcycles in bottles, I'm sold. This is poetry to convert the unpoetic. This is a book that begs to be read aloud by kids of all ages. There's something for everyone here. Even the curmudgeonly poetry-hatin' children's librarian.
The first thing that hits you (after the overwhelming effect of the endpapers) is a large billboard. On it, someone has painted all the poems to come. There are twenty-nine in total and they range in names like, "Tiny Baby Sphinx" to "King of the Tire". Another turn of the page and you find yourself fully enmeshed in the book. Each poem is a riot of color. For example, the poem "Angus" about a now natty dresser shows a dapper dog sporting bright hunter-orange plaid with shoes to match. Turn the page and the eye cools to the mysterious and wonderful, "Flamingos On the Roof", where two girls peek out of their chimney to a deep plum-colored sky. Matching the illustrations are poems funny, introspective, and poems that are funny AND introspective. There's the poem about Medusa's sister Sally who, instead of a bunch of snakes coming out of her head, just has one, "single lazy snake". Or maybe you're a fan of the "Eight-Trees" that grow leaves in the shape of the number eight. Evocative, amusing, and always unexpected, Brown keeps the reader guessing and the poems consistently interesting.
In the fantasy world that I sometimes inhabit, I get to oversee all the editorial choices done on children's books. If I had had my way with, "Flamingos On the Roof", I would probably have changed the order of the poems themselves. The book begins with, "Alphabet Sherbet", which is a perfectly nice poem, don't get me wrong. It's just not . . . well . . . it doesn't grab you and make you want to read more. The casual purchasers might just put this puppy down after skimming poem #1. Instead, I would have begun the book with the beguiling, "Soggy Circus". For some reason, this poem was my favorite of the book. "The circus was flooded / It happened so suddenly / What would they do? / Nobody knew". I can't reproduce the entire poem here, but I love how it ended. "A clown got some laughs / with his kicking and splashing / The audience followed his cue / The strongman just played / with a toy that he made - / a green origami canoe". So lovely.
It's the range of the poems that really threw me for a loop, though. "Biscuits In the Wind" is all about "The latest song from long ago" that was "first made famous yesterday" in which a crooner sings, "My oh my, the years go by / I wonder where they've been? / Gone astray, or so they say / like Biscuits in the Wind". Later we then run across a very quiet little poem simply entitled, "Peas" that's so sweet and simple and quiet that you quite forget that earlier you were rocking out to Brown's magnificent, "Combo Tango". The art took me some getting used to, but once I got into it I couldn't imagine any other artist could have complemented these poems half as well as the author/artist himself. It's a flat style, but magnificent one.
I run a homeschooler bookgroup at my library and once in a while the kids and I do some poetry books. I can tell you right now that as soon my library purchases multiple copies of, "Flamingos On the Roof", I will be reading these puppies aloud with my young `uns. A marvelous addition to any poetry section and a rare find indeed. A great delight to stumble upon.