I just counted. Right now, I have seven library books at home waiting to be read, six reviews waiting to be written, and six books on hold. I hope they won’t all come in at once, though the pile at home says that they’ve been coming in faster than I can read them. Swamped in books I’m excited about is a good kind of swamped, right?
The Microscope by Maxine Kumin. Illustrated by Arnold Lobel. I read this book to my son’s class in April, for Poetry Month. I like a funny poem for kids, especially, and this one is funny enough that I memorized for a high school poetry assignment, too. That time, I found it in a Cricket magazine, and though I have about half a bookcase devoted to my lifetime collection of Crickets, I couldn’t find the poem when I went looking for it a couple years ago. This year, I tried Google again, with better results. Now I have the perspective for the name Maxine Kumin to sound familiar. Right – former poet laureate and Pulitzer prize winner for poetry. Not only was the poem published as a picture book in 1984, but my library had it on the shelf, shelved with the biographies. It’s a tiny little thing, maybe 5 by 6 inches, so Teacher A. was kind enough to set up the document projector for me so the class could see the pictures. I’m not sure if this is irony or appropriate for the topic. In any case, we had fun.
The poem itself is a bouncy little thing, gleefully relating the contrast between Anton Leeuwenhoek, Our Hero, absorbed in making his microscopes and the slightly gruesome things he sees in them, and the townsfolk, who would just like him to keep his dry goods store open. The complete text is up on the Web, but here are the closing verses:
Impossible! Most Dutchmen said.
This Anton’s crazy in the head!
We ought to ship him off to Spain!
He says he’s seen a housefly’s brain!
He says the water that we drink
Is full of bugs! He’s mad, we think!
They called him dumkop, which means dope.
That’s how we got the microscope.
The closing notes that Leeuwenhoek didn’t invent the microscope, but built over 200 of them, refining the design and sharing his findings with many other scientists. Lobel’s drawings, while still distinctively his own work, call to mind seventeenth century-style copper engravings and illustrate the poem brilliantly. Read it for the poetry, the science history, or just the humor.