“Creepy alligator comin’ all around the bend
Talkin’ ‘bout the times when we was mutual friends”
--Phil Lesh, Ron McKernan, Robert Hunter ”Alligator” (1967)
I had a dental checkup a few days ago, so I relate to this poem:
“So Many Teeth
Three thousand teeth
in just one jaw?
Not any gator
I ever saw.
Not all at once,
But over a life
Of chewing, biting,
Battle, and strife.
Some teeth wear down,
And some teeth break
On sticks or shells
Or very tough steak.
There’s many a way
They lose a tooth.
And that, my friends,
Is a gator truth.”
THE ALLIGATOR’S SMILE AND OTHER POEMS is full of smiling alligators. Although Jane Yolen does not include any poems about being chomped by alligators or narrowly escaping them, the thought of those teeth makes me nervous. Thankfully, I was put at ease by examining the resources listed in the back matter and reading the excellent “A Guide to Living with Alligators” that is published online by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and included in Yolen’s “To Learn More” list.
I learned from reading that guide that my fear of being eaten by an alligator if I were to go swimming in Florida is overblown: There is an average of only one death-by-alligator every three years, and an average of only five bitings per year.
Nevertheless, the guide advises that it is essential to not deliberately or inadvertently feed alligators by disposing of fish guts or other food in the water. It is also important not to swim at night, when the alligators are more active, nor to swim with one’s dog, since dogs are alligator bite-sized and you don’t want to become the main course that follows a canine appetizer.
Each poem in this entertaining and instructive collection is accompanied by a related informational blurb. One fact that caught my eye is that little alligators are prone to being eaten by big alligators. Therefore, if you’re a little alligator, it clearly pays to have a vigilant mama.
What especially floors me about ALLIGATOR’S SMILE AND OTHER POEMS is the exceptional quality of the photographs. Such intimate close-up photos, where you can see a sparkle in a critter’s eye, are typically reserved for picture books about puppies or kitties or frogs. Some of these alligator photos exude such cuteness that it gives the impression that young gators are akin to a pack of puppies. The endearing look on one of the older alligators makes me almost want to reach over and just scratch him or her behind the ear as I’d do with someone’s dog.
But then I imagine those smiling teeth sinking into my forearm, and think of how--as noted in the book--male alligators can grow to be TWENTY feet long, and I realize how much better it is to see these sparkling eyes and shiny teeth close up on these pages rather than in person.
After reading THE ALLIGATOR”S SMILE, I am smiling, too.
978-1-4677-5575-7 32 pages Ages 6-9
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
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