Friday, November 25, 2016

Poetry and Beauty and Family: The Bat-Poet and The Animal Family

The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, pictures by Maurice Sendak

I requested this book from inter-library loan after reading and enjoying The Animal Family. (I thought I had written about The Animal Family before, but I can't find it on the blog, so I'm written more about it below.)

The Bat-Poet is the tale of a bat with a love of the beauty of words, rhythm, and song. Early in the story, he becomes estranged from his fellow bats. Over the course of the book, he composes a number of poems and recites them for other creatures. His natural sense of poetry guides him, structuring his poems in physical ways to imitate the creatures about which he writes.
The owl goes back and forth inside the night,
And the night holds its breath. 
Just before winter, he composes a poem about bats. He returns to them to share it with them, but they all fall asleep before he does. The act of composition, however, seems to have granted him both understanding and peace to rejoin the community.

This is a short book, less than fifty pages, interspersed with many illustrations, some spreading across two pages. Nevertheless, it seamlessly and beautifully reveals details on the natural lives of bats, owls, chipmunks, mockingbirds, and cardinals. In addition, it begins to introduce elements of poetry and composition, not as formal grammar or structure, but through experimentation and enjoyment.

Though I received this book through inter-library loan and read that copy aloud to the children, we all enjoyed it so much I have requested a copy from another member at for our home library.

The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell, decorations by Maurice Sendak

The Animal Family describes a lonely hunter who, over time, gathers around himself an unusual but delightful family. First, there is a mermaid. They are joined by a bear and a lynx. Finally, the ocean provides a son.

My children were enthralled by the descriptions of the bear and the lynx. Second Daughter in particular laughed aloud and repeated lines hours or days later from the book.

The text is lyrical and a joy to read aloud. I copied portions of it for our copywork binder as well. (The children choose from this binder for their own copywork.)
The mermaid and the hunter and the boy went to the beach almost as much as the mermaid and the hunter had gone in the old days. The boy loved the sand and shells and little shallow waves that splashed in over his legs and stomach. Sometimes the hunter, with the boy in his arms, would wade out to where the big waves were, and as some great green, white-headed wave hung over them, about to break, it would seem to the boy that there was nothing in the world strong enough to save them--then the hunter would thrust himself up powerfully, the wave would burst around them in a smother of white, salt, blinding foam, the boy would gasp and shut his eyes, and when he opened them he and the hunter stood there alone, the wave was over.
I also requested this book from These are both the kind of book that beckon from the shelf when something peaceful is needed.


  1. THE ANIMAL FAMILY was read to me as a child. Sixty years later, I am still in love with it and make gifts of copies of freshly born children as often as possible. Jarrell captures the very human longing to share experience with another being. It gets me in the heart everytime I read the book.

  2. It's always lovely when books from childhood stand up to the test of time!


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