Camille Saint-Saëns's The Carnival of Animals new verses by Jack Prelutsky. il by Mary GrandPré.
music performed by the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra.
Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 2010.

Camille Saint-Saëns was a 19th century composer. He composed The Carnival of Animals in 1886, and it was published posthumously in 1921. There are 14 orchestral movements. Thirteen short ones introducing the animals and a long finale. The musical suite is used by music teachers to familiarize students with different instruments and classical music.

The music has been performed previously with poems by Ogden Nash (a humorous poet known for light verse and unconventional rhymes, first collection published 1931), one poem for each movement. The Ogden Nash poems were written in 1949. In 1988, Weird Al Yankovic wrote new poems for his Carnival of the Animals, part II (also different music in the Saint-Saëns style). In 1993, Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q. Bach) also wrote new poems, keeping the original music, for the B side of his Sneaky Pete and the Wolf. He also arranged the music for Fantasia 2000 which used parts of The Carnival of the Animals.

Now Jack Prelutsky has written and performs his own new poems to go with the Saint-Saëns music. Prelutsky's poems are more dignified than his usual work but form a nice juxtaposition with the movements of the suite. The composition may need a couple hearings to seem normal. I found the switching back and forth a little jarring at first, but maybe because my full attention was not on it. Neither would a child's be, though. Obviously, the included CD is an essential part of the book. It reminds me of listening to Disney produced albums as a child, Peter and the Wolf, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Fantasia, and an old almost forgotten Musical Monkey Shines. I do remember hearing a similar animal/instrument album in music class also, but not sure if it was this or something else.

Prelutsky was chosen America's first Children's Poet Laureate in 2006. Ogden Nash's poetry is a forerunner of Prelutsky's style. Prelutsky has expanded upon it (though his work here is decidedly tame). I think it is interesting to compare different versions.

The illustrator, Mary GrandPré, may be most well known for her artwork for the Harry Potter series. The illustrations here are very dramatic with vibrant and varied color palettes. They are appealing enough you will not want to skip the book and only listen. There are so many wonderful details, including the depth due to creating with a mix of collage and painting.

Judith Bachleitner, Head of the Music Department of the NY Rudolph Steiner School (Waldorf school) notes the educational opportunities The Carnival of Animals offers students. Young children can act out animal behavior to the music. Older students can be encouraged to write a poem and simple melody for animals Saint-Saëns did not include. As they become more experienced with music, they may be able to compare other pieces, both to what Saint-Saëns alluded and works that are derivative of The Carnival of Animals.

related-animals, musical instruments, introduction to classical music, teaching music, children's poetry, using imagination, imaginative exploration and stimulation
RL=for all ages to enjoy, poems 1st-2nd reading level

Of all the poems, I like Weird Al Yankovic's Carnival of the Animals, part II best. But I was not able to hear the music he wrote to go with them. The poems are less simplistic and are regarding other animals. I was unable to hear Peter Schickele's version or view another parody, Bugs and Daffy's The Carnival of the Animals. But the Warner Brothers cartoon can be found on Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 5 DVD, disc 4, which is available through Netflix.

More info on Camille Saint-Saëns and his The Carnival of Animals can be found at Wikipedia.

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