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Books in Brief: Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan; Sing a Song of Seasons, A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year


Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan; Greenwillow Books, 160 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.


The boastful knights of Camelot have a near-death experience with some terrible lizards and emerge somewhat the wiser in this rollicking romp from award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan, liberally illustrated with his marvelous black and white cartoons.

Phelan begins his hilarious tale at a Round Table banquet. Sir Erec (his tunic "slightly scratchy")  is bored stiff by the sharing of heroic tales by Lancelot and Galahad  so he invents a tale about slaying 40 dragons to outdo his fellow knights.

Merlin then suggests the knights challenge a terrible lizard and directs them to a particular cave. ("The weekend was off to a poor start."... "After a great deal of clanging, strapping and adjusting, Erec was ready.")   The motley crew of knights includes Bors, "a brute in shining armor" and "a Might Makes Right Man through and through"; Hector, who is suspiciously clean but can read; the mysterious Black Knight who never speaks, and Bors' slip of a squire.

Along with the hilarity Phelan offers thrilling suspense in several action sequences, as the knights encounter a full array of dinosaurs (the heavily armored ankylosaurus with its large mace-like club of a tail, the marine reptile Elasmosaurus Platyurus) and fend them off with swords and pluck. The Black Knight in particular plays a major role in confronting the most fearsome of all, the Tyrant King or Tyrannosaurus Rex.

A sample of Phelan's style: "They walked in silence except for the unavoidable creaking and clanking of armor. Erec felt slightly dizzy. Whether it was due to the battle with the lizard, the tumble down the hill, the fact that he hadn't had much to eat that day, or that he now found himself in the company of two people of the female persuasion, he could not say. It was a potent mix, that was for sure."

The target age group will love it but parents, too, will enjoy it as a read-aloud with its droll commentary on knighthood, tongue-in-cheek view of chivalry and rude bashing of gender stereotypes.

(A note at the end describes each dinosaur mentioned in the book and clarifies that they didn't all walk the Earth at the same time.)


Sing a Song of Seasons, A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon, selected by Fiona Waters; Nosy Crow, 319 pages ($40).


This glorious celebration of the natural world, with a ribbon bookmark and gorgeous, full-page illustrations by a gifted British artist, would make a wonderful addition to any child's library.

There are familiar favorites (Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snow Evening," Christina Rossetti's "Who Has Seen the Wind?", William Butler Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"), and many wonderful surprises including "A Hard Winter" by Wes Magee: "Not/ a/ twig/ stirs./ The frost-bitten garden/huddles beneath/a heaped duvet of snow./Pond,/tree,/sky/and/street/are granite with cold."

There are poems by William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, Sara Teasdale, Walter de la Mare, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Lilian Moore, Amy Lowell, Myra Cohn Livingston, Langston Hughes. There are D.H. Lawrence's "Little Fish" and Thomas Moore's "The Last Rose of Summer (Extract)."  Native American poems include the lovely Navajo night chant, "In Beauty May I Walk." Evocative poems paint a vivid picture of the wonders of nature, of the whale, the frog, the dandelion, the snail, the moon, the forest, even a puddle, as in Nick Toczek's "Puddle" ("The moon, the stars, the clouds, a plane/And all that my sky can contain/Reflected in a pool of rain.")  "All Day Long" by Kanoko Okamoto celebrates the honeybee: "All day long having/buried himself in the peonies/the golden bee's/belly is swollen."  Here is the first stanza of Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Moth": "A moth is a butterfly's dark twin/dressed in drab wings./She  isn't scary./Think of her as a different thing -/a plain-clothes fairy." Then there's Ted Hughes' "Cow" : "The cow comes home swinging/Her udder and singing:/"The dirt O the dirt/It does me no hurt." Some are pure silliness, as in Alastair Reid's "Squish Words (to be said when wet)": SQUIFF/SQUIDGE/SQUAMOUS/SQUINNY/SQUELCH/SQUASH/SQUEEGEE/SQUIRT/SQUAB," "Worm Words" by Tony Mitton and Geoffrey Summerfield's "Cabbage-Bite." Poems celebrate the ocean, a wheat field, the rain, the fog.

Read them in order, one a day. Look up the poem for your child's birthday. Find a few to suit the season. This is a lovely, very special book.

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