‘Dip-dwelling, grass-grazer’ – the opening words immediately begin the magic of this enchanting incantation. A tribute to the power and the elegance of the hare, it is an invitation into the hare’s world – ‘ask why she’s standing, ask what she hears’. This powerful poem by Dom Conlon is instantly captivating.
We see Hare leaping out of danger, ‘firm-footed, lea-leaper’. But a fantastical spin also enables her to leap around the world. On her travels, she finds the Arctic hare, the Japanese hare, the Chinese Woolly hare, even the Black-tailed jackrabbit, ‘rabbit by name, but hare through and through’. Each beautiful, distinctive creature faces a different danger, a different ‘hare-stalker’. Each time, Hare must once more leap and twist away from the peril. Repeatedly, as the text urges, ‘Leap, Hare, leap‘ the drama intensifies and the reader becomes part of the magic. We are helping the ‘zig-zag zoomer with lightning under her tail’, willing her on to escape.
The language in the poem is stunning. There are only a few words a child reader is unlikely to know, and the Hare Facts section at the end clearly explains each one. But most of the poem takes familiar words and joins them together with arresting freshness, often in the hyphenated two-word kenning style that Conlon uses with such grace and ease. The Arctic Hare is a ‘frost-furred friend’, and the threat she faces is a ‘ghost-swooper’ snowy owl. The cumulative effect of these rich, playful kennings is hugely powerful, constantly evoking a new image and an imaginative connection. His similes do the same – the hare’s ears ‘rise like hands in class’, which will resonate with every child. This is a book to read aloud and revel in; this is a book that will stir poetry in the listener.
But there is more to this book too. Anastasia Izlesou’s illustrations are perfectly matched to the text so that her endearing hare is indeed ‘our hare’, the hare we are invested in and urging on, but he is also mysterious, other, ‘our fire-eyed moon-jumper’. The pictures create each new habitat in loving detail so that the careful reader absorbs more knowledge than the text alone brings. The final Hare Facts section also brings a richness to the book. It compares hares’ speed (50-60kph) to Usain Bolt’s (44kph), includes the fact that a flea can jump 150 times its height, and introduces the word ‘crepuscular’. This then is a book that will spark – and satisfy – a hunger for knowledge as well as ignite a love of language.
Any classroom shelf will benefit from this book. It is a book that spans age ranges, and which will richly reward time spent reading it aloud. But it is also a book to be pored over, and a book to be shared at bedtime.
Nikki Gamble talks to Dom Conlon In The Reading Corner
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