Dotlich, Rebecca Kai illus. by Karen Dugan. When Riddles Come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder. Wordsong, 2013 (reprint). ISBN 978-1620910313 32 pp. $7.95
Following in the footsteps of poetry master Emily Dickinson, Dotlich presents her own collection of riddle poems for young readers. Poems about gumballs and snowflakes, yo-yos and pizza, celebrate childhood by focusing on individual experiences or everyday items. Each poem combines a sentence or two of evocative hints to solve a “what am I?” riddle.
Several poems use shape to get the point across, with unruly letters snaking into descriptive shapes. “Rumble” looks as if it is vibrating, while “slips” slides down an invisible slope. A poem about a snake practically begs for a sinuous weaving of words on the page, but Dotlich exaggerates the Ssss’s instead.
Gems include a roller coaster poem with a faintly uneven rhythm, as if you are on an amusement park thrill ride and don’t know what’s around the corner. Dotlich captures the of fireworks in one sentence: “I boom,/I pop,/I stay up late–/my neon colors/decorate/with bold design/and brilliant flair;/a masterpiece/I make/of air.” A teapot poem cleverly uses a word game to create the riddle.
Accompanying illustrations in shadowy-cool yet vibrant tones of spring green, purple, aqua, lemon and dark orange all but shout the answers, providing extra assistance on the tough ones and extending the poem in other cases. Some of the artwork has an extreme close-up perspective that lends an appealing abstract quality while presenting more of a challenge. Like alphabet soup, the borders are sprinkled with letters that spell the answer. Solutions are located at the front of the book for the clueless.
The language is vocabulary-building fun, and the poet makes use of tools such as pun as well as simile. Some poems will sound sing-songy if read wrong; a few non-rhyming poems would have been a nice reminder that not all poems must rhyme, but the rollicking rhythm moves the poems, and the rhyme scheme never feels forced. While perhaps too challenging for a preschool story hour, “When Riddles Come Rumbling” is perfect for introductory units on poetry, either in the classroom or shared at home.
The extension possibilities for this book are only as limited as one’s imagination. Children can develop their own riddle poems, assemble cut out letters to make words, or words to make poems; come up with a list of words that are onomatopoeic or take their own shapes, or learn about other poets who wrote in similar style. Recommended for purchase.