I Saw An Invisible Lion Today. That title caught my attention first. Then a read of the Millbrook Press description of the 36-page book for ages 7 to 11, and I knew that it must be mentioned during National Poetry Month. As you can see from the image, the text rates high on cute. At the same time, the content is clear, entertaining and informative as it lays out the poetic form quatrains to kids.
A poet I know always says, “Never stop askin’ for poems,” and this work is ideal to spark an interest in wordplay in even the youngest. Aside from the multicultural and lighthearted drawings the cadence of each tale and playful topics seem so simple and open, a child might believe that he or she can do quatrains. In fact, despite the avowed audience, the ease with which author Brian P. Cleary approaches the poetical technique might enchant anyone (even a grownup) who listens.
The Ohio-born humorist and poet is no novice. As I learned, Cleary is author of a broad range of works on language, math, food, phonics and poetry for the young. I did not know the name when I picked the title, but the thrill of the book’s explorations with wordplay made me a fan. Most readers will want to see more, too. Especially if they check out his website.
I Saw An Invisible Lion is reader friendly, as befits a text for the very young. Many parents will find themselves reading the book several times, yet I can see how a children might soon pick it up themselves. The author starts with explanation – “quatrains are four-line verses that usually rhyme.” Just that simple, and that is what I liked. Then he adds the notion of rhyme schemes or end rhyme patterns – “the most common types: AAAA, AABB, ABCB, and and ABAB.” That is about all that is needed to make a move on quatrains. The rest of the work is examples.
Now most poets and readers well-learned in the intricacies of form poetry are probably saying, “Oh, give me a break,” right now. However, the key to a true appreciation of the work is to look at it from the perspective of an average reader. Clue: most people in the U.S. neither read nor understand poetry. If a person is not certain about the form, they will be when finished.
I read I Saw An Invisible Lion Today from the viewpoint of a parent, grandparent, or any older person who wants to teach an elementary age child that words can be more than just a hard labor. More than that, I read the work again from the approach of of average reader who knows little more about poetry than the kind they prefer. I came away a great fan of Cleary, because the book teaches and makes you laugh. Anyone who can read this book and come away with nary a giggle or snicker, either does not understand English, or is dead. Academics aside the sounds of the lines alone sometimes draw smiles.
The organization of the book seems pretty obvious. Cleary places the rhyme scheme for the mostly four-line examples at the start of each tale to make sure. As I wrote, the bulk of the book is the quatrain patterns in poetic quips of various lengths. The topics are silly in unusually clever ways. The tales he spins can help children to see reality as it might be, and poetry as a way to escape what is. For example, the title poem:
I saw an invisible lion today
and fourteen invisible leopards.
And thirty invisible sheep being led
by thirty invisible shepherds.
I saw an invisible baby giraffe
who ate from invisible trees.
I watched as he shook an invisible nest
filled with invisible bees.
I saw an invisible penguin who skated
upon an invisible rink
along with a group of invisible skunks
who made an invisible stink.
British illustrator Richard Watson adds to the sense of mirth in the work. Most of the art matches to the sometimes extraordinary scenes the poet described (invisible skunks). I cannot critique the illustrations, only say that they made me look intently to see how his vision complemented the writer. Most times they were as tight and serendipitous as a good jazz riff. Watson showed his greatest skill with the drawings for “At the Muzzaloo Store.”
At the Muzzaloo Store there are crates of persnoobles
fresh-baked flobitzen and tazbees with jubles.
They’re stocking the shelves with the best alaprises,
ungden and traffadoo (three different sizes!)
Watson’s store scene delivers just enough ick! factor to make an average 7-year-old squeal with delight. The syncopation of off-beat words and art, made me wonder what he might have done with Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” The critters in the crates and elsewhere look bizarre, but not a nightmarish sight.
Parents will love to show kids pages like that. Their children will have fun trying to spot the “tazbees” and “alprises.” In the end, children and adults will learn enough about the form that they will be inspired to make up poems. I Saw An Invisible Lion Today, is a great way to get readers of all ages to “never stop asking for poems.”