A Tower of Giraffes – Anna Wright

My first reaction to this book is chagrin. I’ve been planning pretty much this sort of thing in the back of my head for … well, for years, so I have no right to complain about somebody swooping in and taking the idea. Ever since I first started seeing mentions of James Lipton’s [book: An Exaltation of Larks] long long ago, I’ve collected and enjoyed these words used for collectives.

The artwork in this is marvelous – realistic, but with a jaunty cuteness that is extremely attractive (and kicks whatever I would have produced right to the curb). A mix of line, watercolor wash, and beautifully designed collage adds whimsy and kicks up the creativity. The only thing that could be better would be a sort of pattable book with swatches of actual fabric – but it probably wouldn’t work, because the pattern of each scrap is chosen carefully to work with the drawing (or the drawing is based on the fabric’s shape and pattern; it could be either). And the owls use feathers (in the most gorgeous way), which would be challenging. I want to rip off this whole style – but Ms. Wright can probably rest easy, since I’ll probably never get around to it any more than I did to writing my version of this book.

Screenshot - 11_9_2015 , 12_51_45 AMI think the only thing that keeps this from being a five-starrer is that I was hoping for more (or perhaps less) from the text. Without any basis for it at all, I expected it to be in verse. (Let’s see… “when horses gather together, we call it a herd… for a collection of sheep, then flock is the word”…) Something a small child, of picture book age, would enjoy having read to her, something the adult reader could deliver with varying intonations and maybe even funny voices. (You could totally read a page about pigs in a snuffly voice, and so on.) But instead each page gives the collective, then a small block of text about the animal which reads like a brief and slightly juvenalized encyclopedia entry. I haven’t spent all that much time around kids, so there’s every possibility I’m dead wrong, but I just don’t picture them being gripped by the text. Also, I would have loved to see the connection between the collective noun and the animal made explicit.

Example: “A Flamboyance of Flamingos … Flamingos are highly sociable and live in large groups – even up to Screenshot - 11_9_2015 , 12_50_29 AMthousands of birds! These fancy feathered friends also work together to make theatrical displays by posing like ballerinas and marching in time to impress other birds.” Which is fascinating … but how many children will get the bigger words? And depending on the grown up to be able to define “flamboyance” might be asking a lot.

Still, it’s informative, and absolutely lovely to look at. I’d buy a copy of the dead-tree book, just for my own enjoyment.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review – many thanks!

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