Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices is exactly what is sounds like—a collection of poems to be read by two readers in stereo. Which poses a problem for kids wanting to read it alone on a rainy day, or for kids without friends or siblings (for them, not being able to read this book is the least of their problems), or for kids who don't like having someone else read over their shoulder.
It is possible to read these silently and alone, but it isn't particularly easy or rewarding. Each poem appears in two side-by-side columns, one for the left-hand reader and another for the reader on the right. Some lines are read in tandem, some are traded back and forth, and a couple read like conversations between two characters.
Bug characters, that is. Joyful Noise is a collection of insect poems, featuring everything from fireflies to cicadas, using creative and often humorous imagery to describe the lives of these creatures. The poem "Book Lice" is particularly funny, as two in love book lice talk about all the books and authors they've resided in.
Eric Beddows illustrates with black and white drawings that are alone worth the price of the book. They're fanciful and beautifully detailed, offering slightly off-the-wall interpretations of Paul Fleischman's poems. Unfortunately, the pictures don't make the actual poems better, they just make the book more enjoyable to look at.
What makes these poems sub-par is the fact that they don't really teach kids anything about poetry. These are free verse poems, occasionally featuring off-balance rhyme schemes. There's nothing wrong with free verse poetry (some of the best poets wrote free verse), but these poems come off more as scripts, and feature few of the elements that distinguish poetry from prose.
Fleischman is witty (though a lot of it will go over the heads of most kids), but he's not much of a poet, and he's not much of a science instructor (what do readers actually learn about bugs?). Maybe the Newbery committee was just tired the year this won, or maybe they were just trying to find a book that filled the "plays well with others criteria" of the new school curriculum.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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