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joyful noise

6 july 2016

Joyful Noise is a lovely book that deserved awards. It collected the Newbery Medal in 1989, in addition to several other book-list citations. It's a little hard to imagine it in use, however. Paul Fleischman's text (with captivating drawings by Eric Beddows) is subtitled "Poems for two voices." It jumps off the page only when read aloud by two different people. It's not a book you can read directly to a young child; and by the time a child is old enough to read it with you, he or she may not want to hear it. It perhaps offers opportunities for two adults (or older children) to read aloud to a younger child or group of younger ones. The logistics may be difficult to arrange, but the attempt would pay off.

If Joyful Noise perhaps talks past a juvenile audience, it can cleverly engage adult hearers. The poems, all about (and spoken by) various kinds of insects, are literate and witty. They range from comic to whimsical to elegaic. Water striders show off their skills. Moths try to explain their fascination with light, a digger wasp its gruesome life cycle. Bees, in counterpoint, sing about privilege (the queen) or drudgery (the workers).

No Newbery contender would be complete without some evocation of the joys of reading, so Fleischman and Beddows work in a poem about book lice. The final poem in the set is "Chrysalis Diary," a nice, not too sentimental poem about metamorphosis.

I've staged readings of the poems in my classes and can attest to their appeal. Try this at home if you have an amenable family. Without the aural component (and even with), Joyful Noise remains mostly a curiosity; but without curiosities literature wouldn't be worth much.

Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for two voices. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. 1988. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. PS 3556 .L42268J69