Title: Animal Poems of the Iguazú: Animalario del Iguazú | Author: Francisco Xavier Alarcón | Illustrator: Maya Christina Gonzalez | Publisher: Children’s Book Press | Date of Publication: 2008 | ISBN: 978-0892392254 | Number of pages: 32 | Grade Level: Kindergarten – Grade 7 | Literary Trends: Spotlight on Diversity, Intriguing Non Ficiton
Alarcón, F.X. (2008). Animal Poems of the Iguazú: Animalario del Iguazú. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Francisco X. Alarcón opens his children’s poetry book with a tribute the great Iguazú Waterfalls, the “big blue and green laughter of Mother Earth…” in bilingual text “matter of factly” placed above an impressionist painting of the falls during the blur of dawn. Page upon page, Alarcón’s poems take notice of the biodiversity of the Iguazú National Park, seemingly stopping at every fascinating insect, animal or wash of color to be found, in a type of free association field guide. Readers of Animal Poems, might be able to pick up on Alarcón’s wit and sense what it would be like to walk through the jungle with him. Occasionally, poems take on long form in tribute to some of the more mystical creatures Alarcón encounters and similarly, a few of the smaller animals get a short poem that matches their tiny personalities.
The illustrations, by Maya Christina Gonzalez, are deep forest green and blue with bright splashes of blood red and mango orange and unlike other illustrations from Latin American themed picture books, feel unrestrained and free-flowing much like Alarcón’s poems. Some readers might find the text a bit too loose however, and the typography is inconsistent at times, appearing to be placed at the most convenient location on the page. There are moments however, where Alarcón’s poems glide on the wings of hummingbirds or lay atop the moonlight reflecting on the “quiet water” of the Iguazú riverhead.
Kirkus Review describes the “simple words” of this poetry book as “playfully integrated into the illustrations,” yet there are very obvious design flaws that readers, will likely notice, such as black text over a dark brown background. Clearly, once the text and illustrations were out of the artists’ hands, the book’s publishers managed to dilute the power of the work with damaging book design. Even the binding makes for a difficult experience in navigating this book, pages spring back into place when the book is laid on a table. Community reviewers at Goodreads offer a generally positive assessment and many, agree that this selection would be useful as a teaching aide during a rainforest unit for young students. Others however, point out that the mission of the book, as explained by Alacrón in the introduction is to inspire young children to become “conservationists” is not reinforced by some of the poems that are “too” simple. Indeed, some of the English translations lose the spirit of the original in Spanish, and it is difficult to assess how they fulfil the mission that Alacrón seeks.
Unfortunately, Animal Poems of the Iguazú, for all of its great intentions, does not express the power of Francisco X. Alacrón’s poetry, and young readers are unlikely to have an opportunity to attend a reading by the author, which can be a deeply moving experience full of joy and powerful wisdom.