Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Day of the Bat

A bat is born,
Naked and blind and pale
His mother makes a pocket of her tail
And catches him. He clings
to her long fur
By his thumbs and toes and teeth.
And then the mother dances through the night
Doubling and looping,
Soaring, somersaulting-
Her baby hangs on
All night, in happiness,
She hunts and flies.
Her high sharp cries
Like shining needlepoints of sound
Go out into the night and
echoing back,
Tell her what they have touched.
She hears how far it is,
how big it is,
which way it's going:
She lives by hearing.
--from The Bat Poet, by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

In college, my children's literature professor told me, "Of course you like The Bat Poet. That's a book usually only children's librarians like." The basic premise is this: a little brown bat discovers that daylight reveals a completely different, totally fascinating world. He tries to get his fellow bats to stay awake with him, but they refuse. As the bat continues to "stay up" during the day, he meets an assortment of creatures, including a chipmunk who's a great listener, and a self-absorbed mockingbird who claims to have the corner-market on the correct forms of poetry.

While the story intrigued me, it was Sendak's illustrations that catapaulted me into my fascination with bats. I like their looks, the elegant silhouettes of the different wing-spans, the way their wings are actually their hands. At one point in time, I could fill your head with all sorts of facts about bats, where they showed up in folklore, as well as their prevalence in popular culture. You could get me fuming by dismissing bats as "rabid animals that fly into your hair." Hey, there are more people bitten by rabid cats, dogs, squirrels and raccoons. Everyone thinks they're cute.

I bring this subject up now because a new non-fiction children's book about bats was published a few months ago, and I want to read it. It's called Little Lost Bat, by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks. If you get to it before I do, let me know what you think.

By the way, in China, bats are representative of happiness and good fortune. You've probably seen some version of the five bats (Longevity, Wealth, Health, Love and a Natural Death at a Ripe Age:

I still collect folktales about bats. One of my favorite ones comes from Cote d'Ivoire. To be continued...


Nonny said...

I don't mind bats. As long as they don't come anywhere near me. I did see a bat attack my mother when I was younger. And it did go straight for her hair. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy reading about bats :)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I don't get it! Bat "facts" say that bats don't want anything to do with human hair, and yet I have heard reports from friends that bats went straight for the relatives' hair. Well, they are wild animals, and not so good as pets.

Now I've got to dig up that folktale. I just came across it the other day, but foolishly did not file it with my other stories.

Lone Star Ma said...

I think the part you have posted of the Bat Poet is exceedingly lovely. I don't mind bats at all - I think they are way cute, actually - though, of course, one does have to watch for rabies - I wouldn't pick one up. I came upon a dead one once on the capitol grounds of Austin and almost stepped on it because it looked like a little leaf - so tiny. We must meet in Austin one day for bat watching as they fly from under the bridge to hunt. I have done it before and they are all around you and don't go for your hair(: