A look at the human condition through poetry written as though by animals.
‘We Animals Would Like a Word With You’ is a collection of poems about a variety of animals. Each poem in this book focuses on one particular animal (e.g. bear, kangaroo, skunk) and uses their distinct characteristics to turn them into ‘amusing’ characters. Examples include ‘Sir Grizzly’, ‘Hopaloo Kangaroo’, ‘Thinking Turtle’, ‘Mrs Skunk’ etc.
Underneath all this humour and creative use of language are important morals that are thought provoking. An excellent example of this is the poem ‘Mrs Skunk Writes a Letter to the Press’. This poem covers the topic of skunks and their ability to create a foul odour (referred to as bad breathe in the book), and how humans hate them for this. Agard intelligently gives Mrs Skunk ‘a voice’ and allows her to comment on humans poor traits. These included minor issues such as passing wind and major ones such as environmental pollution. The book raises topical issues throughout and keeps you engaged.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of poems and would definitely recommend it to others. It can be used with upper primary children, but with the help of an adult (whether teacher or parent). This help is needed if every child is to understand the moral of each poem. An example of this is the poem ‘A Reminder from Snake’. This poem not only speaks about the key characteristics of a snake (e.g. slimy, crawly, poisonous, venomous etc), but also refers to the role it plays in the Christian bible. Some children may not know the ‘Garden of Eden’ story and may need adult assistance if they are to fully understand the poem.
I would only use this particular book with upper primary children due to my reason in the previous paragraph. This book though could still be used in a variety of ways:
· English: not only for reading, but also practicing English writing techniques e.g. alliteration, repetition, rule of three etc.
· Cross Curriculum (Geography, History RE): introduce children to topical issues in a fun and creative way e.g. pollution, stress, illness deforestation, etc.
· Science: Could be used to introduce children to a variety of animals and their different attributes.
This book is a collection of poems from animals' perspectives. It challenges preconceived ideas we have about animals through familiar stories. An obvious example of this is in the poem Frog Hop, which relates to the traditional story of The Frog Prince. However, the poem indicates that the frog was quite happy in his frog form and did not want to become human. Therefore, questions arise about our own actions and the consequences they have for other people.
In Hare I Am, Agard challenges the morality of hunting, and makes it a very accessible issue for children, though it could be upsetting for some younger readers. The theme of animal cruelty is prevalent throughout the collection. The Little Fish has Something to say to the Fisherman shares the theme of killing for sport and demonstrates contempt: 'throw down your hook, silly man'. The Last Bird then goes on to demonstrate that humans have a great effect on wildlife, even without conscious decisions, specifically by not caring for the environment.
Agard also challenges religious ideologies about animals in various poems. A Reminder from Snake has clear references to the story of Adam and Eve, where the Devil is in the guise of a snake. Telling it Like a Pig challenges the idea that pigs are dirty animals. Rather, Agard portrays them as highly intelligent creatures who have a good motive for all their actions. Both poems offer an alternative view to those that have been perpetuated by religion. Essentially, Agard has attempted to pull down preconceived ideas about animals and have his reader view them as intelligent and sensitive creatures who would do very well without the interference of humans.
This children’s book offers an amusing insight into the mindset of animals, in particular, their take on the world in relation to humans. The book is appealing to children not just for its comical poetry, but also its imaginative context. Each animal is gifted with a sense of humor, wit and intelligence. On a more serious note, the book invites the reader to examine the rights of animals and the consequences of human intrusion into their natural habitat.
I highly recommend this collection of poems to all ages. The humor, imagination, illustration and underlying moral themes will make reading this book an enjoyable experience time and time again.
- Reading Age: 8-11
- Reading Aloud Age: 8-11
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