My first thought after finishing Douglas Florian’s Mammalabilia was that I wanted it to go on and on. I wanted Florian’s take on the entire animal kingdom. In twenty-one poems covering different mammals ranging from the tiger and the giraffe to the rhebok and the ibex, Mammalabilia offers short, sparkling poems in Florian’s signature whimsical style.
This collection begins with a table of contents, listing the animals to be explored. Because of the nature of the poems, readers could choose to read from start to finish, or pick and choose those animals in which they are most interested.
Mammalabilia opens, appropriately, with “The Aardvarks,” a four-line poem with an ABCB rhyme scheme wherein Florian plays with the unusually spelling of the title animal by rhyming “staark” with “daark.” While this non-customary spelling might throw off emerging readers, it is the perfect way to open this collection. Using a traditional form, Florian sneaks in a little silliness, exposing readers both to a recognizable form of poetry, and something new.
Each poem is presented opposite one of Florian’s gouache paintings. Often these paintings make for a nice addition, but in the case of “The Zebras,” the painting is vital to understanding the poem (in which the speaker asks “How many zebras/ Do you see?”). Other poems, like “The Coyote,” “The Bactrian Camel” and “The Lemurs” ,play with shape, twisting and turning on the white page.
I find this collection of Florian’s poetry to be very appealing. I tend to favor humor, especially as an introduction, because I feel it is something to which all readers and listeners can relate. Humor, I believe, is a great humor leveler. Florian’s poems are neatly packaged jokes, perfect for sharing bit by bit. Florian hits the animal highlights (the giraffe, the elephant) and also gives readers and listeners a glimpse at animals with which they might be less familiar, such as the tapir.
One of my favorite poems (and paintings) in the collection is “The Fox.”
A fox composed this poem,
There are so many opportunities to teach and have fun with this short poem. Florian utilizes alliteration, rhyme and first-person address, the joke being that a fox wrote his own self-serving poem, and possibly convinced the speaker to relay it. Discussions could be very interesting if one wanted to unpack the layers of narrative here, but I think it would be fun to use this premise to write poems for other animals. Why might a skunk say about himself, for example, as opposed to what the poet might say? One could even take the exercise outside of the animal kingdom. What would a cuckoo clock want to be said about it?