By Micha Archer, Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, ages 5-8
The curious hero of this beautiful celebration of spring, “Daniel Finds a Poem,” could be a contemporary version of Peter, the boy in Ezra Jack Keats’s classic “The Snowy Day.” Just as Peter learned about the properties of snow in a wintry city landscape, Micha Archer’s wonder-full boy spends each page exploring an urban park, quizzing wildlife about the properties of poems.
“Daniel knows all the rocks, trees, and animals in the park,” reads the first page. And you can see his wisdom about the natural world in his exquisitely illustrated gaze: He looks reverently, with downcast eyes, at a dog, with wonder at a spider and a web, and goes eye to eye with a chipmunk. He asks each creature, “What is poetry?”
There is natural curiosity in his question, but also some urgency. When on Monday, Daniel reads the new sign posted at the park’s gate, “POETRY IN THE PARK SUNDAY AT 6 O’CLOCK” the clock starts ticking: Will he uncover the answer to his question by the time the poetry in the park begins? Each day his animal friends offer help, but each one seems to have a different answer. “Poetry is when crisp leaves crunch,” Squirrel tells him. “Poetry,” says Frog, “is a cool pool to dive into.” “I think poetry is sun-warmed sand,” Turtle says.
The textures of the animals and their habitats — illustrated with feeling and precision in collage and oils — have all the specificity and beauty of a poem. So it’s no surprise when you reach the end of the book to find a lovely reveal. On Sunday morning Daniel wakes up and tells himself, “Today is ‘Poetry in the Park’ . . . and I have a poem!” Daniel has gathered up what he has learned and observed. The lines he recites in the park that evening make it all new.