Animal Sense

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A stapler with its tiny fangs Cannot outwit orangutangs.
Rocks are very good at sitting,
but never walk or take up knitting.
Living things all feel and sense their way through every happenstance. . . .

In this delightfully witty collection of poems, bestselling author Diane Ackerman shows how the senses ...
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A stapler with its tiny fangs Cannot outwit orangutangs.
Rocks are very good at sitting,
but never walk or take up knitting.
Living things all feel and sense their way through every happenstance. . . .

In this delightfully witty collection of poems, bestselling author Diane Ackerman shows how the senses shape and enrich the experiences of all living beings. With enchanting illustrations by Peter Sís, Animal Sense is sure to capture the imagination of readers young and old.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Caldecott Honor winner Peter Sís teams up with acclaimed author Diane Ackerman in this stunning, sophisticated collection of poetry about animals' senses. In three poems within each of five sections, Ackerman describes different animals and tells how a particular sense makes them so remarkable. In "Hearing," for example, she writes, "Speaking in storm language, / humpback whales, / before they blow, / low rousing ballads...bog-low as a foghorn, / singing the blues." Sometimes her poems surprise as well, including the third in "Vision": "Swans are not white -- they're clear. / The same is true of polar bears...Tiny air bubbles inside swan feathers / trap all the colors, splash them together,/ and abracadabra! we think we see white there...." Most remarkable, however, are Peter Sís's gorgeous pen-and-ink illustrations, which provide a quiet yet complex feast for readers' senses as well. Ideal for animal and poetry lovers -- yet made for anyone looking for a work of true art -- this extraordinary read will expand the mind and soothe the spirit. Matt Warner
Publishers Weekly
This quirky collection of animal poems is organized around the five senses but young readers will have difficulty distinguishing between Ackerman's (A Natural History of the Senses) flights of fancy and the facts of nature she weaves throughout the poems. A combination of imagined balderdash and poetic panache, the poems seem only shallowly playful. A baby penguin, we're told prefers snuggling up to his "Mom's tummy/ but a human hand or rug/ also feels yummy." The poems wobble between authentic descriptions of animal life and whimsical, anthropomorphized dialogue. Baby penguins "[waltz] through their ice palace/ on Mama's feet," but also squawk, "Hug me!" In a poem about the vision required for a bee's "waggle"-dance, Ackerman announces, "Bees hate the movies,/ they loathe TV." Although readers will discover some lovely metaphorical nuggets buried in the technically proficient poems (the whale poem is especially noteworthy, split by S!s's elegant image of a humpback plunging down the spread), sometimes an initial, arresting image is coupled with a baffling non sequitur (e.g., "A stapler with its tiny fangs,/ cannot outwit/ orangutangs"). The alliteration and rhyme may pique readers' interest, but the concept of a stapler trying to outwit an animal seems strained. S!s accompanies each poem with skillfully rendered, one-color pointillist artwork resembling woodblock prints, as well as occasional boxes containing detailed spot art. A beautifully designed but unfortunately flawed collection. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)
Children's Literature
As one would expect from the title, this collection of 15 poems (including the introductory one) all relate to the senses (touch, hearing, vision, smell, and taste), which for animals and humans are pretty much the same. The book design is interesting—Sis has drawn a very simple human face on the left-hand page with a solid color page opposing. On this page, one word that names the sense appears to introduce the poems by Ackerman that follow. Sis has also developed other more complex illustrations for Ackerman's poems. Among those that kids will find amusing is the one about owls in the section concerning vision. "Consider the owl: a pair of binoculars with wings, / all eyes, giant eyes that swivel and swing / to spy tasty morsels..." I enjoyed the one about the skunk in the section relating to smell. "'Oh yeah' / says the skunk. / 'You, just keep provoking / me, and I'll spray you with a smell / that's rotten and rancid / and scummy and beastly...' " The poems are printed in different colors — a plus and a minus, because sometimes the small type is hard to read, which is unfortunate because most of these do have kid appeal. 2002, Knopf,
— Marilyn Courtot <%ISBN%>0375823840
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Ackerman, a poet and naturalist who writes most often for adults, here turns her skilled hand (and ear, and eye, and voice) to children's poetry. There are 15 poems, 3 for each of the 5 senses, each one about a different animal. They are concise and compact, with a quietly humorous tone that sometimes veers into the kind of silliness that many kids love. For instance, she writes about the cow, "-every meal is grass with a side order of grass,/plus huge dollops of grass smothered in grass,/followed by grass chops and, for dessert, more grass." There are many fresh, friendly images that young readers will enjoy: "Consider the owl: a pair of binoculars with wings-." Various facts about the animals are seamlessly interwoven, and may inspire a little research on the nonfiction shelves. The pictures are subtle, a lovely match for the poems. Some are small, some larger, but all are precisely rendered, with evident feelings for the creatures shown. This is a small book with an elegant and perfectly scaled design. It is more similar to a jewel than to an ice-cream sundae-in other words, it may not have the wide appeal of the more colorful or broadly humorous offerings, but readers who want to go beyond the obvious will savor it.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Poet and naturalist Ackerman (The Night Crossing, 1994, etc.) examines the five senses by way of the animal kingdom. In "Hearing," she talks first about the sounds of bats, which we cannot hear; then the sound of humpback whales; and lastly, of birds: "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. / It sings because it has a song." For "Vision," the way bees and owls, "binoculars with wings," view the world plays against how we perceive swans and polar bears and blue jays, with a tiny lesson in how light makes color happen. "Taste" fascinates with a certain amount of ickiness, "Flies taste food with their feet. / If it's good to dance in, it's good to eat." She finds all the myriad flavors of grass for a cow and the vicious daintiness of a leopard on the prowl. The rhymed verse is by turns giddy, extravagant, and thoughtful, and always unsentimental. S's (Scranimals, p. 1042, etc.) opens each section with a kid's round head, a labyrinth sketched where the seat of that sense is-at the mouth for taste, two labyrinth spirals for ears, etc. The poems have full-page images faced with text and a related vignette, S's's shimmering, calligraphic pointillism rendered in a single color, contrasts with the color of the sans-serif type font. Brown, black, blue, magenta, and green are used in saturated but subdued tones, and the whole makes quite a pretty piece of bookmaking. Good poetry, fine illustration, a bit of natural history gently rendered and more than occasionally funny-what child could ask for anything more than this exquisite little gem? (Poetry. 7-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375823848
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 2/11/2003
  • Pages: 48
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Diane Ackerman
Diane Ackerman is the bestselling author of over 20 books of poetry and nonfiction, including A Natural History of the Senses, Cultivating Delight, and Deep Play, which was also illustrated by Peter Sís.
Peter Sís has written and illustrated numerous books for children, including Tibet: Through the Red Box and Starry Messenger, both of which received a Caldecott Honor.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt



An alligator, for example,
has a skin chock-full of dimples and puckers wrinkled like a blouse.
Do not invite one to your house.
He may grow cold and use his wiles to con you with his fixed smiles.

Never lend him your best sweater,
though he may sing an operetta about being cold-blooded, or perform a hula dance just to keep warm.

He knows a blanket of tiny marsh flowers will keep him toasty, or he can bask for hours on the riverbank with one leg dangling his tail in shade and his snout angling up until he finds the perfect spot –
not too cold and not too hot.
I suppose he could carry the sun in a flask,
and he would if he could, but it's easier to bask,


Penguin babies,
on the other hand (or wing),
will cozy up to almost anything summery and snug preferring Mom's tummy,
but a human hand or rug also feels yummy.

Frantic for a big, smothery featherbed cuddle,
they sometimes wobble around in a chilly muddle,
gawking everywhere for their next of kin. '
'Hug me!'' they squawk.
I need wings to snooze in.''

Then while the antarctic night blusters and blows and rainbow-bright auroras glow,
the air plunges to 40 below.
But penguin babies keep warm they peep songs of summer and nuzzle in deep,
waltzing through their ice palace on Mama's feet.


The real masters of touch are not grabby monkeys
(who do love to clutch),
not turtles, who find a shell-scratch sublime, not cockroaches,
whose belly-fingers can climb,
not snails (who have such slimy sensitive feet),
not silky-pouched kangaroos,
mice, or jellyfish,
not leapsome gazelles or lions acting kittenish,
not even animals like squids that squish.

No, it's prairie dogs,
termites, anteaters. and such-
animals that dip for a living,
in darkness, through dirt,
and are constantly giving pinches to some,
rubs and twealks to others.
That's why the star-nosed mole
(who always wears a glove on his nose)
feels everything overmuch and has dirty cheeks but a dainty sense of touch.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2005

    Science meets poetry

    So quirky and witty that you won't realize you're learning something. Really first-rate kids'poetry as well, right up there with Shel Silverstein, and like Silverstein, adults will enjoy it too.

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