Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

When I saw Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems on the new books shelf at the library, I snatched it right up.  The cover artwork is gorgeous, and I almost immediately recognized the name of the poet whose works are contained therein.  I read Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s novel-in-verse Reaching for Sun (linked to my review) way back in 2008, but it has stayed with me, which is a sure sign of the talent of this poet-author. 

I love Cousins of Clouds.  It is a series of very different poems, all about elephants.  The title is taken from the first poem, which is about some of the beliefs that various cultures have had about elephants down through the ages.  One of my favorite poems is a concrete poem entitled “Fortress.”  In it, the speaker addresses a baby elephant and recounts the way the mamas, aunties, and sisters encircle the baby to protect him.  Here’s a little snippet from one entitled “Beggars of Bangkok,” which is about an elephant and his mahout (handler) who make their living begging:

The mahout kicks the flesh

behind the tattered, speckled ears,

and the elephant turns–

diamonds of reflective tape

mark his giant hind

and swing on the metronome of his tail

so the cacophony of cars

will notice his shadowed form.

Isn’t the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern nice?  And I love the image of the metronome of a tail.  🙂  Each poem is accompanied by an explanatory note so that the context of the poem is made clear.  Since some of the poems are about cultures or landscapes that might be unfamiliar to the reader or listener, this is very helpful.

As wonderful as the poetry is in this collection, the other part of the equation here is the fabulous artwork by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.  The illustrations are mixed media collages, one of my favorite forms of art.  From endpaper to endpaper, every page in this book is lovely.  My favorite illustration is one which accompanies six separate haiku poems about the parts of an elephant’s body.  There’s one entitled “Accessory” about the elephant’s tail, which the poet calls a “tapered rope of tail” and “a fancy tassel”;  the artists, of course, illustrated the tail as a rope.  The legs are called “great pillars” and “an architect’s dream,” so one leg is illustrated as a column.  This two-page spread of the book is marvelous.  You can see a little video clip of illustrations from the book here on the author’s website.

Really, I could go on and on.  I am definitely nominating this book for the poetry category of the Cybils this year, if someone doesn’t beat me to it!  This would make a fantastic addition to a study of elephants (of course!) or even if you’re just looking to enjoy different forms of poetry, since this book contains quite a few.  Highly Recommended!

Related Links:

For the Kids’ Poetry Challenge and in response to this book, the girls and I made collage elephants using my stash of scrapbooking papers.  Drawing is something that can really frustrate at least one my girls on any given day, especially when it’s something that’s prescribed.  I used this lesson plan from Deep Space Sparkle to help them draw their elephants.   Sort of.   No one is actually more eager than I for my children to simply take matters into their own hands and create, but again, an assignment to draw anything seems to sap the creativity out of them.  In fact, one of my daughters, she-who-shall-remain-nameless, doesn’t like to draw or color.  She does it only because I “make” her.  :-0  I do think that art is a very worthwhile endeavor, so it’s just one of those things that we do sometimes.  (By the way, does anyone have any tips for encouraging a child who just isn’t interested in such things?  I don’t necessarily want to make her do something she hates, but I do think there’s some value in honing these skills just a little.)


Louise's Elephant + My Reflection 🙂
Lulu's Elephant
My Elephant
We finally replaced the chameleons! 🙂

Still, when it’s all said and done, my art-avoiding daughter (‘though to be fair, it isn’t all art that she avoids–mainly just drawing or anything that requires precision) had a good time, and so did the rest of us.  There’s something very relaxing about paper, scissors, and glue.  I think I need to carve out some time for some scrap-therapy soon!  🙂

I’m really enjoying sharing poetry with my girls this month.  In fact, I’m thinking that it should be something that we don’t wait until next April to do again in such concentrated doses!  For more Poetry Friday posts this week, visit Random Noodling.  For more Kids’ Poetry Challenge posts, visit Brimful Curiosities.

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18 thoughts on “Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer”

  1. I love your elephants! Maybe we’ll try something similar with horses around here. 🙂

    ‘Cousins of Clouds’ looks truly lovely, both poems and pictures. Now you have me thinking about elephant books we’ve enjoyed — Bill Peet’s ‘Encore for Eleanor,’ ‘Ella,’ and ‘The Ant and the Elephant,’ and one non-Peet book — ‘The Saggy Baggy Elephant.’

  2. I think I will have seen everything, when I see an elephant fly. 🙂 I was able to read “The Cousins of Clouds” using the Amazon book viewer, and now I know why they can’t fly! Your patchwork elephants remind me a little of the Elmer book character. What a wonderful idea to change out artwork in permanent frames.

    As far as drawing, we keep markers, crayons and paper out at all times in our home so that the kids always have access and can create when the mood strikes.

  3. This book is right up my alley, combining as it does some of my fave things: elephants, flying, imaginative artwork, and intriguing poetry and poetry-topics. I have it in my Amazon shopping cart already.

    Your elephant collages are truly folk art. Thanks for your post today, Amy.

  4. I also have a child who hates to color and draw and groans at the mention of art. My other one, of course, loves anything arty or crafty.

    I think like a lot of things in homeschooling this gets to the balance between encouraging kids out of their comfort zone and enjoying the benefit of being able to play to their strengths.

    With art, for this particular son I purposefully don’t schedule a lot of crafty activities as part of school. We have an art program that we use and it’s just a requirement like any other subject. He does enjoy exploring other mediums (he likes clay or drawing with a pen more than paint). I do a lot more crafts and art with my other son who enjoys it and I always ask my oldest if he wants to join us. Usually he will, but if it was something he “had” to do he would grumble. I also encourage him to draw pictures of things he likes: battles, etc. He will do very detailed elaborate drawings of a battle or some kind of invention or a building but if he has to draw something like a leaf he’ll act like he’s dying. 🙂

  5. Janelle,
    Yes, my girls have ready access to all sorts of art materials, too. This child loves to make things but doesn’t like to draw or color at all. I think it’s just “how she’s turned,” to borrow a phrase from some old timers I know.


    It sounds like your son and my daughter are a lot alike! We haven’t used an official art curriculum this year, but I’m planning to add one next year. What have you used?

  6. You daughters did a great job!
    I have a few hesitant artists in my classes. For these reluctant artists, I take a back seat when giving instructions. I allow them to interpret the lesson as they see it. I also don’t make a point of offering praise (sounds strange, I know!) but I find these kids are a tad more intuitive than most.
    But having said that, some kids don’t like drawing because they have compared themselves to others and don’t think they draw as well. Sometimes, a directed line drawing can’t boost confidence. Good luck! You’re doing great!

  7. Cousins of Clouds sounds like such a good book! I will definitely have to see if I can borrow it from the library.

    I love your elephant collages…they turned out beautifully 🙂

    My daughters are both very inclined towards arts and crafts projects, but I do have one daughter who REALLY doesn’t like to have any prescribed activities associated with her creativity, so I can identify with that!

  8. THANK YOU so much for sharing this book with your children and blog readers, I SO appreciate it! And, I LOVE the ellie art you all made.

    Gorgeous! Fantastic! Such a creative idea. Would love to share, may I?

  9. Your review of Cousins of Clouds has me itching to find it already! And your elephants are adorable. I wouldn’t call my son a reluctant draw-er, but sometimes lacking in precision or patience. One thing that helped – scented markers that he’s only “allowed” to use for “special” projects. Makes them somehow more desirable.

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