- Dear Hot Dog
Better known for his prose, the estimable author-illustrator here turns to poetry, offering over a score of free-verse odes to elements of kid life so familiar as to be overlooked: the toothbrush, crayons, rain, socks, even air. The poems personify their subjects, sometimes even directly addressing them, and they’re written in the voice of the kid who wears the featured pants (“We go everywhere together/ except/ the washing machine”), pours cereal in the subject bowl (“You gurgle happily/ as I pour in milk”), and eats the celebrated ice-cream cone (“I hold you high/ against the sky/ like Liberty’s torch”). Gerstein skillfully balances the concrete with the abstract, keeping his imagery within reach of his young audience while gently stretching their imaginations by comparing leaves to “colorful, crispy cornflakes” or suggesting that the pillow “sleeps/ all day,/ dreaming it’s/ a cloud”; the observations are firmly rooted in kid experience and viewpoint (“Honestly!/ You’re nothing like/ worms”—“Spaghetti”), and the verses move in a subtle trajectory from morning wake-up to evening bedtime. The art employs Gerstein’s familiar slender, playful lines energized by scribbly hatchwork, with well-worked color blending in to smeary planes that give luminous rainbow auras to the featured elements. Illustrations, featuring a multicultural trio of kids, stay largely literal but are no less amusing for that; carefully clever compositions offer comic viewpoints (“Toes” shows their owner sitting with her bare soles in closeup for the viewer) and touches of humorous exaggeration (the kid bounding above the ground in his humongous “Shoes”). This has considerable potential not just as a straight poetry readalone but also as a readaloud, a source for poetry recitation and performance, and an inspiration for kids’ own writing.