Review of In the Woods

In the Woods
by David Elliott; illus. by Rob Dunlavey
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
4/20    978-0-7636-9783-9    $17.99

Once again Elliott (On the Farm, rev. 3/08; In the Sea, rev. 1/12; and others) captures the essence of a habitat and its creatures in poetry that manages to be both pithy and profound. Here fifteen poems, each on its own double-page spread, are devoted to animals of the forest. As in previous volumes, some poems are clever and funny (“Give the skunk / a lot of / room, unless / you care for / strong perfume”); others are almost elegiac in tone. A few are concrete poems, including “The Hornet,” arranged in the shape of a hornet’s nest. Dunlavey’s art is not as in-your-face spectacular as that by some of the previous illustrators of the series but is perfect for setting and subject. His expansive watercolor and mixed-media illustrations feature aptly muted hues, with occasional bright spots: the red flash of a scarlet tanager; the pink of a wild turkey’s neck. The compositions are focused and compelling — the viewer knows exactly where to look on every spread. It’s worth lingering to find details of interest, however. A fox on the hunt “stands red /against the April snow,” and our eye is caught and held by the intensity of her expression and posture. But look closely to see a squirrel clinging, unmoving, to the far side of a tree, and a vole hiding in an underground burrow. An ideal marriage of poetry and art; another successful entry in a long-running and (seemingly) perennially renewable series.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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