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Friday, April 3, 2009

Daniel Kirk: Words and Images in Perfect Harmony

If you don’t know Daniel Kirk. I’m going to change that. Or possibly, if you're like me, you've seen two or three of his books, but never made the connection that this "one guy" was behind them. This triple-threat author, illustrator, and performer is an incredibly talented and prolific writer whose work is worth a look.

My first experience with Daniel came through a recent school visit. It’s a rare visiting author who can equally charm both kindergartners and eighth graders! Students (and teachers!) at every grade level were entertained and enlightened by his mix of words, images, and music.

My own fourth graders were especially eager to learn about the life and work habits of a writer, and during an up-close-and-personal classroom visit Daniel deftly fielded their myriad questions about his trials and tribulations as a published author.

So where to begin with his books? Most of my students would unanimously select Dogs Rule! as Kirk’s finest. This richly illustrated book is loaded with poems about dogs we all readily recognize: the Bad Dog, The Lap Dog, the poor bulldog with the Purple Rhinestone Collar. Booklist raved: “The pleasures of tail chasing, hanging out a car window, gnawing bones and taking walks past a fire hydrant have never been captured with more slobbery exuberance.”

Other students, however, those I refer to as the “cat people,” would conversely hold up Cat Power as Kirk’s finest achievement. Both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal praised the illustrations and the unique cat’s-eye view of the world (which is still a mystery to us dog lovers!). Both books come with a CD of the poems set to music, which adds to the reader’s enjoyment.

Kirk’s website provides readers with fascinating back-stories of his books, and teachers and parents alike will appreciate the follow-up questions for each book. For example, Daniel provides these follow-up suggestions for Dogs Rule!:

  1. If you were a dog who could talk, what would you say about your life?

  2. What would the world be like if there were no dogs? What kinds of pets would people choose instead?

  3. Draw a picture of what the world looks like from the point of view of a dog.What kinds of things are important to show? How do things look from down on the ground?

  4. Find out more about the different breeds of dogs, the history of dog breeding, and the history of dogs as pets. Find out what kinds of personalities go with the different breeds.

  5. Read about dogs senses, and how their sense of smell, taste and hearing compare to humans and other animals.
The site also features a number of activities in pdf format, free music downloads of the songs that accompany his books, and a number of interviews that provide a glimpse of a writer’s life.

Whether you’re a lower grade teacher looking for poetry and picture books in a number of topics or themes, or an upper grade teacher seeking writing models for developing students (be sure to check out his highly-praised novel Elf Realm), you’ll find abundant ideas and resources in Daniel Kirk’s books and web site. Truly fun stuff that will get your kids excited about words, rhymes, and writing!