Mark Weakland's The Delicious Chocolate Donut
illustrated by Mike Owens
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Clever rhymes for clever kids
Mark Weakland isn't afraid to rhyme. (These days that's saying something.) And Mark does it well.
The major children's books publishers barely publish any rhyme. Agents and editors reject it out of hand.
Yet the demand is out there. Pretty much all of Dr. Seuss's books are still in print. Shel Silverstein's too.
So why the disconnect? Why so little new rhyme being published? In this reviewer's opinion, two things are going on.
Rhyme helps children learn to read. The rhythms - done right - are infectious. And try to find a song in free verse!
Yes, a good rhyme is a wonderful thing. And with The Delicious Chocolate Donut, we now have some good new ones. And not just good...clever. See if you can guess what this small portion of a Weakland ode pays tribute to:
A pirate spyglass,
An electric guitar,
A dark round tunnel
For a matchbox car.
A giant straw,
A piece of art,
A blow tube for
A poisoned dart.
The piece is entitled, "The Cardboard Tube."
The poems tend to run a little longer than Silverstein, who this reviewer suspects may have inspired the poem, "Harry McMinn."
Harry McMinn, like some grownups I know,
Has a problem with hair and where his hair grows.
The first time you meet him, you can't help but gape--
He's as shaggy as Big Foot, a great hairy ape...
Hair clings to his knuckles, sprouts from his ear,
And covers his back like a chimpanzee's rear.
But up on his scalp, which is hair's common home,
He's as shiny and bald as the Capital dome.
Illustrator Owens provides a portrait of McMinn (looking suspiciously like the photographs of Shel Silverstein glaring back at terrified youngsters from the back of his books).
I very much enjoyed the humor of the poems, but I save the majority of my kudos for the fact that Weakland challenges young readers with a sophisticated vocabulary and challenging rhythms that require some repetition to master. This isn't the can't-say-it-wrong meter of Dr. Seuss.
In the Forward, the author encourages readers to read the poems aloud, and I couldn't agree more. One joy of The Delicious Chocolate Donut is learning to read the poems so that the rhymes scan and the meter works. (Weakland, a professional musician, clearly knows it's all in the phrasing.) For instance, there are many wrong ways to read this opening salvo in a personal injury suit, but only one right way. Can you nail it?
Sticks and stones might break my bones,
But names never did hurt me.
Until a neon sign
Fell and clobbered my spine.
Why didn't you alert me?
The Delicious Chocolate Donut: And Other Off-Kilter Poems is a new rhyming book that works.
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