friday feast: a strange place to call home by marilyn singer and ed young

Happy Poetry Friday!

It’s always a treat to see a new poetry collection by the one and only Marilyn Singer, who, if I’m not mistaken, has published six books this year (what a slacker :))!

Today, I’m happy to feature two poems from her latest picture book, A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & The Animals That Call Them Home (Chronicle, 2012), which is officially out this week.

In A Strange Place, we meet 14 wondrous creatures who’ve somehow managed to survive and adapt despite harsh, extreme, unusual and/or dangerous conditions. Who would expect to find billions of ice worms flourishing in glaciers and ice fields, flies who hatch in petroleum pools, or blind freshwater fish living in deep underground caves?

Art by Caldecott medalist Ed Young

Not only are these animals a great testament to the miraculous resilience and persistence of life, some can surprise us and shatter our assumptions by thriving in digs just the opposite of what we would expect.  For example, it’s natural to assume all penguins need snow and ice, but in the opening poem, “Think Cold,” we see how Humboldt penguins have successfully adapted to the warm, arid conditions of coastal Chile and Peru.

And what type of habitat would you associate with monkeys? I think of tropical rainforests in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Snow Monkeys take the prize for living the farthest north of the equator, in the coldest climate of any non-human primate. “Think Heat” will encourage young readers not only to marvel, but to investigate the ‘why’ and ‘how.’


snow monkeys

Hear “monkeys,” think heat, think swinging in trees.
Who imagines them huddled in minus degrees,
heads white with snow from the latest storm,
on their isolated island, trying to keep warm,
submerged in a hot spring, taking a bath?
How did they get there? What was their path?
Why did they stay? Did they feel they were trapped?
Who first got the message:
We have to adapt?

My favorite poem in the collection is “City Living,” which is about urban foxes who’ve been driven from their woodland homes as our cities and suburbs have continued to expand and proliferate. I like the reminder that as humans we need to be a lot more mindful of how our actions impact the balance of nature.


urban foxes

They have
quit forests and
fields for sheds, flowerbeds;
forfeited wild berries for shrimp
lo mein.

It seems
an easy life,
but in close quarters, cars,
capture, and contagion take
their toll.

adapted to
city living find it
full of plenty — but plentiful
in risk.

I don’t live in the city, but on two acres of woods, an uncharacteristic strip of land sandwiched between two tract developments. To build one of the neighborhoods, the developer clear cut all the trees, totally destroying the natural habitat of many deer, foxes, birds, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, snakes, groundhogs, and possums.

Our quiet back yard has become a kind of sanctuary for these animals, and over the years, we’ve become especially fond of the deer and foxes. Generations of fox families, descended from the Great Reynaldo, have adapted to a much smaller roaming area, and it’s always heartbreaking when a fox is killed by a car. I’m no naturalist, but I enjoy living here with them, and am grateful for what they have taught me. This week I’ve been seeing three foxes napping in the yard together.

Fuzzy comes for dinner every evening around 7.

So far, they haven’t complained about my cooking — happily noshing on roast chicken, sushi, spaghetti, blueberries, ribs, and smoked salmon. But they draw the line on carrots. Baked potatoes, no, french fries, yes. Truly omnivorous on their own terms. They know my husband’s voice, and come running when he calls. The deal is, we’ll share our food if they’ll keep the rodent population in check.




But a bit more about this beautiful book:

Ed Young’s earthy, soft-toned cut-and-torn paper collages, presented in gorgeous double page spreads, perfectly showcase all the poems, giving the reader adequate time and space to examine and reflect. The interesting textures, lines and layers enhance the uniqueness of the animals and their challenging environments. Love the tiny pearl eyes of the spadefoot toads and the shimmery foil wings of the petroleum flies!

Interesting Endnotes provide more info about each of the animals. Some descriptions also mention factors threatening their existence (deforestation, diseases, capture, predators). In the case of the ice worms, we learn how scientists are studying their “antifreeze,” to better understand how life can survive on cold moons and planets, and to find ways to freeze organs for transplants.

A final note explaining the poetic forms used (free verse, triolet, haiku, sonnet, cinquain, villanelle, terza rima) rounds out this handsome offering, which will likely pique curiosity about other animals living in extreme conditions, generate meaningful discussion, and inspire readers to write their own poems. A brilliant thematic poetry collection by two award winning children’s literature veterans that’s not to be missed!

written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Ed Young
published by Chronicle Books, August 2012
Poetry for ages 6+, 44 pp.
Hardcover Picture Book with Full Color Illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-4521-0120-0
*A beautiful synthesis of literature, science and art
**Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus

* * *

Animals included:

  • Humboldt Penguins
  • Snow Monkeys
  • Spadefood Toads
  • Ice Worms
  • Blind Cave Fish
  • Flamingos
  • Tube Worms
  • Mountain Goats
  • Limpets
  • Camels
  • Mudskippers
  • Dippers
  • Petroleum Flies
  • Urban Foxes

* * *


♥ See more spreads from this book at Scribd.

♥ Other blog reviews: Writing and Ruminating, A Wrung Sponge, A Year of Reading, Book Aunt.

♥ Marilyn Singer’s Official Website

♥ Ed Young’s Official Website

* * *

The always lovely and enviably talented Doraine Bennett is hosting the Roundup this week at Dori Reads. Don a fedora, tap on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week!


*Spreads from A Strange Place to Call Home posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2012 Marilyn Singer, illustrations © 2012 Ed Young, published by Chronicle Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

40 thoughts on “friday feast: a strange place to call home by marilyn singer and ed young

  1. You sold me on the book, Jama! Also, what beautiful shots of “your” foxes! I’m glad you can offer a bit of sanctuary.


    1. You’ll enjoy it, Tabatha. It’s really an interesting theme and I learned about a few animals I’d never heard of!

      We love our foxes and are happy for peaceful co-existence :).


  2. Oh dear, this makes me sad: …”forfeited wild berries for shrimp
    lo mein.”

    Thanks for sharing this lovely book.

    I’ve been toying with a light kids’ poem that’s about reverse urban sprawl – the animals take over (or retake) “our” space. Your sweet little foxes are quite the inspiration for that!


  3. Look at those foxes in your yard! It’s like heaven there at your house, isn’t it? I feel like it must be.

    Oh, but then those poor foxes trying to live in the city. And I had no idea about snow monkeys. Looks like a good book.


  4. I’d love to have had this when my class studied habitats. It’s a beauty with the poems sharing enough information so creatively that one wants “more” and those gorgeous collages adding to story. There is a picture book about foxes in our city too, in several neighborhoods. Coyotes have moved in to nearby large parks as well. You said it well, humans have taken the space! It’s great to hear about this new book, Jama.


    1. So many animals being displaced by “progress!” Great books like these really make you want to learn more, a very good thing. . .


  5. This book is my most recent poetry indulgence! I’ve enjoyed spending time in its pages. Thanks for the great review.

    Love your foxy pics as well – we’ve had the occasional fox (and several deer and rabbits) here in our neighborhood, but when we lived on a dozen acres a few years ago, we watched the daily antics of kits as a fox family grew up right at the edge of our woods. Adaptable little beasties, they are.


    1. Lucky you — we’ve had some kits too and they *are* wonderful to watch! One fox family had a picnic in the yard once — parents patiently watching while the babies tumbled and romped. Nice to hear you already have this book :).


  6. The foxe is adorable. I can’t wait to buy this book. I am in today with an original poem about needing judges for the CYBILs in poetry.


  7. I can so picture those urban foxes eating shrimp lo mein. Thanks for the post, Jama. It’s interesting to see the book illustration with fox dwarfed by dump truck alongside your photos of Fuzzy and friends, who look so gentle and frail in their youth.


    1. It would be surprising to come across foxes in the city. They’d never starve, though, since they pretty much will eat anything.


  8. I’m hooked on this book. The images plus the poetry. I want a copy. Will definitely look into this. Thanks Jama for sharing. I’m not quite active in poetry friday, but glad to have taken my turn this time around and discover this book.


  9. My copy arrived here this week and I must say I am so thankful for the combination of this poet with this illustrator. Your review is wonderful, Jama. How fortunate for all the woodland creatures that you and your husband have maintained the sanctuary for them. I love your fox pictures. I think there was a skunk jamboree in my backyard last night; lost of little looking-for-grubs holes everywhere.


    1. Oh no, not skunks! We have one who makes his presence known once in awhile, right under our front porch. We’re not quite as hospitable to him as the other animals. I agree that the combination of Marilyn’s beautiful poems with Ed’s amazing-as-usual collages is wonderful.


  10. This would make a lovely gift for a young person as it could be enjoyed by the whole family. Thanks for introducing me to this author and artist.


    1. Definitely a lovely gift and a good resource. Great example of some of the high quality nonfiction poetry being written today for young people.


  11. Thanks for sharing this lovely book, Jama. It’s definitely going on my recommended list for my schools. I live in the piedmont in Georgia. It’s the area between the flat coastal plain of the southern part of the state and the mountains of north Georgia. It’s also the most populated part of the state. It’s definitely a compromised habitat, with so many animals adapting to homes in city parks, streets, attics, etc. I had a conversation with a deer this week while walking in one of our local parks. She wasn’t the least bit afraid and probably would have walked even closer than the five- foot distance had a runner not intervened.


    1. The compromised habitats seem to be an all too familiar scenario all over the country. How wonderful that you were able to get that close to the deer!


  12. We have a fox friend, too. He comes through our yard at about 5:30 just as the sun rises. I wish we could feed him to come… but we have coyotes and black bears in our neighborhood and I definitely don’t want them in my yard.


  13. I am an avid fan of both Ed Young and Marilyn Singer. I am sure I would enjoy this book, the theme also seems all-encompassing – for all creatures who are in search of ‘home.’


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