In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Exuberant birdy nonsense

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Funny you should mention birds.  Isabel's new favorite book these days (along with Violet the Pilot, Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms, and Grumpy Bird, which are all in heavy rotation) is The Pelican Chorus: and Other Nonsense.  It's a collection of three of Edward Lear's strange, pleasing, nonsensical rhyming poems, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.  It's a joyful, weird book.

Why does Isabel love it so much?  Perhaps it's Lear's language, the steady, tongue-twisty rhymes which are so pleasing to read aloud.  Marcellino's drawings -- so many animals for Isabel to identify -- clearly add to the appeal.

Of the three poems contained here, the only one I was familiar with before reading the book was "The Owl and the Pussycat," probably Lear's most widely known poem.  It's one I've had occasion to hear multiple times in my classroom as well.  When I assign Poet Studies to my ninth-graders and tell them they have to focus on a poet who wrote primarily for adults (thus no Shel Silverstein option), a couple of boys always choose Lear.  It's no surprise that a 14-year-old boy takes pleasure in reading this stanza aloud:

The other two poems are "The New Vestments," about a man who makes a very unusual outfit out of all kinds of food, and then is stripped of it by animals and kids as he walks through the town, leaving him completely naked by the end.  A sampling:

When I first read this one, I found it kind of cruel and odd, but both Eleanor and Isabel think it's so funny that I've changed my mind.

The third poem is "The Pelican Chorus," the story of the king and queen of the pelicans, whose daughter leaves home (much like those little bluejays) to marry the King of the Cranes.  The delight of this poem comes in its repeated chorus:

Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee,
We think no birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill,
We think so then, and we thought so still!

I challenge you to read that aloud a few times and not have it stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Love, Annie

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