Thursday, January 7, 2010

African Acrostics - a wonderfully creative book of poems (ages 6 - 10)

Hooray for the Cybils! I just discovered a wonderful book of poems that I had not seen before, from the Cybils 2009 Finalists for Poetry! African Acrostics is a wonderfully creative book that families, children and teachers will all love.  Children will be drawn in by the engaging photographs of African animals, but the poetry truly hooks listeners as they enjoy its rhythm and rhyme and try to puzzle out what hidden words are included in each poem.
African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways
by Avis Harley
Photographs by Deborah Noyes
MA: Candlewick Press, 2009
ages 6 - 10

Each of these 18 inventive acrostic poems features a different African animals. Acrostic poems spell out a word using the initial letters of each line, but Harley's poems go far beyond this simple form. While some poems spell out the animal's name, others spell out more subtle descriptions. The rhino's poem spells out "beauty in the beast," while the giraffe's calls them "cloud friends." Some poems also spell out a different word using the last letter of each line (a double acrostic); there is even a quintuple acrostic with five hidden words arranged vertically.

Finding the hidden word is a fun game, but here it brings surprises and insights into the poet's imagery and descriptions. Harley's poems are deftly written; the patterns within each poem do not make the poem stiff or awkward. The rhythm and rhyme make them perfect for reading aloud.  Here is a poem about the bat-eared fox that fascinated my 3rd grader:
Wild Whispers

Bat-eared fox and wind
In the stalks are
Given to conversation.

Ears such
As these can
Read any breeze, even
Sound out punctuation!

(c) Avis Harley
Each poem is accompanied by a full-page color photograph that shows the featured animal, often echoing the poem's mood.  Deborah Noyes, the photographer, is a former zookeeper. She also wrote and illustrated One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals. At the end of the book, Harley provides more information about different types of acrostics that you'll want to see if you can try yourself! The following page has short paragraphs of information about each animal.

This book brings a new appreciation for poems that use words "in edgeways."

Avis Harley has written several books of poetry.  I'm especially interested in The Monarch's Progress.  For an insightful, fun interview with Avis Harley, see The Miss Rumphius Effect.  For other fantastic poetry finds, go to today's The Miss Rumphius Effect for all the listings.  Tricia has informed me that January is National Puzzle Month - so this book of acrostic poems fits in perfectly!

The review copy came from my local public library. Find a copy at your local library using WorldCat. Or purchase a copy at your local bookstore or on Amazon. If you make a purchase on Amazon through these links, a small percentage will go to Great Kid Books.  Thank you for your support.


  1. This looks like a wonderful book. I am going to put it on our list for our library. Thanks!

  2. I LOVELOVELOVE this book! I'm always on the look-out for acrostics that SAY something to use as models for my students when they write them!

  3. I used this book as part of our poetry unit last year and my students LOVED it! Every time I read it I'm inspired to write acrostic poems about EVERYTHING!

  4. Thank you for this review. You've inspired me to look for AFRICAN ACROSTICk. ANd since I have a special affection for monarchs, I'll be looking for THE MONARCH'S PROGRESS, too.

    All best,
    Loree Griffin Burns

  5. Rawley & Mary Lee - thanks so much for your comments and agreements. I haven't used this with students yet, so I'm glad to hear that they loved it.

    Loree & Andromeda - it's great for library collections! so glad you're going to look for it!

  6. Dear Mary Ann: Another book just perfect for my upcoming 2/19/10 Reading, Writing and Recipe blog post. I am excited by the other comments and look forward to reading the book.

  7. I love connecting with other sites that not only offer great advice for getting great books in the hands of children, but also finding one as in-depth as yours. This was such a fun book to read - and the images are wonderful. Thanks!