Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: The Dog Writes on the Window with His Nose

(Blogjob tags: Beat poetryDavid Kherdianfree verseNanny Hogrogianpoems adults can enjoy reading with childrensimple poems that suggest pleasant images,twentieth century poems.)

A Fair Trade Book

Author: David Kherdian, best known for a longer story for older children:
Date: 1977
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 0-590-07448-2
Length: 32 pages including flyleaves and illustrations
Illustrations: watercolors by Nonny Hogrogian
Quote: “The best poetry for children is poetry that is written for adults—but judiciously selected.”
Only two of the 22 “judiciously selected” poems in The Dog Writes on the Window with His Nose were written by David Kherdian. One was written by Nonny Hogrogian, his wife. The other nineteen are either short poems or snippets from Richard Brautigan, Gregory Corso, Ray Drew, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William J. Harris, Anselm Hollo, Jack Kerouac, Ruth Krauss, Charles Reznikoff, Theodore Roethke, Aram Saroyan, William Stafford, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, and William Carlos Williams.
The selection of poems is Beat and whimsical. The Dog Writes on the Window with His Nose is also the complete text of one “poem.” Children love the rhyme and rhythm that distinguish poetry from prose, and this book offers them neither; it’s all Free Verse and Imperfect Haiku. How much does this detract from the book’s kid appeal? I’m not sure. I think one has to have read a lot of formal poetry in order to develop any sympathy for Free Verse.
So it’s likely that adults may enjoy this book more than kids do.
As an adult I think that “The dog writes on the window / with his nose” may be prose, but it’s a clever caption for an appealing picture. As a child I would have resisted it. That's because I associated Free Verse with unisex polyester leisure suits and “storybooks” about dinosaurs and organized sports and smog and pavement and other things that all seemed to appeal to a certain type of person--the kind who thought chlorinated sewer water was Progress and women working in coal mines were Liberated and more traffic was an Improvement. As an adult I don’t see any necessary connection between misguided early-twentieth-century ideas of Progress and the mere form of Free Verse, nor do I have any idea whether any child makes similar connections now. I can say, though, that children are more attracted to doggerel that fits a traditional tune than they are to good Free Verse.
So, can children enjoy this book? Probably they can, if an adult who enjoys it shares it with them. Presentation counts. I wouldn’t try to convince a child that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme; I’d just share the comments on the pictures. The pictures are pretty. The text is witty. If a child does want this book read aloud five thousand times, it will be easier for the adult to bear than Raggedy Ann or Heather Has Two Mommies. The words should be familiar to primary school children, but they’re not limited to words found in school readers. Each little poem should bring a sense of fresh awareness of, and delight in, the natural world to adults or children.
Considering that they’re meant to be lifelike, some of the pictures are more successful than others. The moth’s eyes aren’t right; it’s hard to tell whether the cat-hating birds are meant to be crows or starlings. All are, however, charming. The watercolor version of a black cat looks remarkably like a real “blue” cat. The flowers could almost be used in a field guide.
The Dog Writes on the Window with His Nose is recommended primarily to adults who could use twenty-two “mental vacation” meditations, and secondarily to the children to whom they read aloud.
David Kherdian is still alive and writing, so this is a Fair Trade Book. Send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either of the addresses at the very bottom of the page, and I'll send $1 per copy to Kherdian or a charity of his choice. The Dog Writes on the Window with His Nose is a very small book and would rattle about in the package; feel free to browse Amazon's author page for other early books, mostly available secondhand, by Kherdian and/or Hogrogian, and have them tucked in. The way the shipping charge works is that if six $5 books will fit into a package, the total cost is $35, and if all six of those books are Fair Trade Books, the authors and/or their charities get a total of $6.