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Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices    by Paul Fleischman & Eric Beddows order for
Joyful Noise
by Paul Fleischman
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTrophy, 2005 (1988)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Fleischman's collection of fourteen persuasive poems honor the insect world. They're intended to be read aloud by two voices, alternating or simultaneous. Attention is given to the short life of the mayfly, the book lice with a taste 'from Schiller to thrillers', the pulse of the cicada, the honeybee, chrysalid butterflies, and whirligig beetles. The synergy of words complements the insect described in the poem, with a diversity in timbre, temper, and topic. Each poem echoes the 'booming, boisterous, joyful noise' of an insect.

Memories immediately drew me to 'Fireflies'. As a youngster on a warm Summer night, I recall collecting a few in a jar just long enough to hug them close, and in sorrow - releasing them. Fireflies here are performing artists 'Light / is the ink we use / Night / is our parchment ... Insect calligraphers / practicing penmanship ... Signing the June nights / as if they were paintings'. And 'The Digger Wasp' struggles through sadness - 'I will never / see my children, / they will never / gaze on me. / I'll have died / when they're emerging / next July. / So it must be.' There's a romantic note in 'The Moth's Serenade' to a porch light - 'Porch / light, / hear my plight! / I drink your light / like nectar ... Let's marry for a trice!'

How about Olympian 'Grasshoppers'? 'Grasshoppers / hopping / high / Grasshoppers / jumping / Vaulting from / leaf to leaf ... Leapfrogging / longjumping / grasshoppers.' And 'Honeybees' alternately stages royalty and workers, 'Being a bee is a joy. / I'm a queen ... I lay eggs' versus 'Being a bee / is a pain. / I'm a worker ... I'm up at dawn'. My favorite are 'Book Lice', which have the joy and wonder of millions of books to peruse, as they fall in love - 'I was born in a / fine old edition of Schiller / We're book lice ... I passed my youth / in an Agatha Christie ... We honeymooned in an / old guide book on Greece ... We're book-loving / book lice'.

This collection garnered many awards including: the 1989 Newbery Medal, the 1988 Notable Trade Books in the Language Arts (NCTE), and the 1988 Books for the Teen Age (NY Public Library). Eric Beddows' soft-pencil illustrations present insects soaring, spinning, swimming, kneeling, and hiding, matched to the format of easy-to-read text. I recommend Joyful Noise as fitting entertainment for all ages. Fleischman aptly ends his triumphant celebration of life - 'And now I recall / that last night / I dreamt of flying.'

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