Review of the Day: My Hippo Has the Hiccups by Kenn Nesbitt
My Hippo Has the Hiccups: And Other Poems I Totally Made Up
By Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrated by Ethan Long
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (and imprint of Sourcebooks)
On shelves now
I guess it’s difficult to gauge in this day and age (hey, that kinda rhymed!) the extent to which any contemporary children’s poet sounds like Shel Silverstein. Do we have any hardcore children’s literary poet scholars out there that can answer this question? Because as a kid that’s what I grew up with. It was Silverstein or nothing. And yes, I was aware of the presence of Prelutsky, but to my infantile mind he was just Silverstein without the requisite shock, horror, and depth. That’s the problem with Silverstein. Did he invent the jokey kid poem? I don’t suppose that he did, but he certainly reinvented it. The problem is that when I pick up a book like My Hippo Has the Hiccups I see everything through a Silverstein-shaped lens. This isn’t poet Kenn Nesbitt’s fault. It’s the way I view all books of collected poetry for kids. And to the Nesbitt’s credit, his new book of collected poems stands up to my unusually intense scrutiny. Simple funny poems with simply funny illustrations and a not-so simply accompanying CD means that you get the maximum amount out of bang for your poetic buck. Your kid needs some funny poems for Poetry Month? Here’s something to hand them. Now comes the tough part; getting it back from them.
Have you ever considered the plight of the truly frog-obsessed? Or taken into consideration the ramifications of what it means when vegetables get angry? Have you thought about what you would do with a hole in the ground if you could really get one all the way to China? Or subjected yourself to image of a penguin wearing a Speedo? Time to start, folks. In 109 poems poet Kenn Nesbitt applies serious (well, maybe not TOO serious) interest to these as well as other silly questions. Puns and poems, jokes and junk, this is a book for the kid with an id. An accompanying CD contains Mr. Nesbitt himself reading thirty-nine of what he hath wrought.
Most of the poems in this book end with a single line or sentence that throws everything you read before on its head. The kid who dreamed of riding a zebra to school wakes up laughing and decides to ride the giraffe instead. The boy who claims he’s too full after dinner asks whether or not there will be any dessert on the menu. Sometimes you get a pretty obvious one coming that even a nine-year-old will spot, but at other times, as with the poem "Blackbeard and Bluebeard and Redbeard," the kicker is unexpected and divine. I’m sorry but anyone who can pun up the word "marooned" has my instant appreciation. Nesbitt also indulges in a couple twists, turns, and flourishes that are entirely his own. For example, the poem "Izzy O’Rainty" comes across as fairly inspired. I mean, check out this opening: "I’s Izzy O’Rainty / I ain’t not bizarre / I is how I ain’t / and I ain’t how I are."
Nesbitt will also switch up the rhyme scheme once in a while, though you won’t necessarily be able to use this book to teach different forms. But while many are the usual ABAB form, once in a while you’ll hit on an AAAB AAAB rhyme scheme (I’m sure that there’s a name for this and I’m equally certain that I don’t know what it is). And to my infinite relief everything scans. Mind you, you might not realize that right off the bat. For example, in the poem "Today I Wrote This Poem" the last line looks like "with an A++++!" but to make the scansion work you actually have to say each and every plus listed.
The partner in crime here is artist Ethan Long, a man best known at this point for his Tickle the Duck. I wonder how much interaction went on between Nesbitt and Long. After all, some of the jokes in this book require the illustration as the explanatory gag. For example, "My Father Looks Like Frankenstein" is coupled with a picture of a mummy looking at herself in a mirror. This is to go along with the final line, "I really can’t explain how I / turned out to be so pretty." Now the poem doesn’t work a jot without the image, so Nesbitt must have been taking visuals into consideration when he wrote some of his verses.
Kenn reads thirty-nine of these poems on an accompanying CD that is included with the book. He’s a good reader. His voice changes in pitch and tone depending on the poem in question. Since he doesn’t read all the poems there were some I would have liked to have heard parsed, like "Lefty the Lifter" which happens to contain lines like, "Lefty, listing swiftly leftly / drifted off a cliff did." Or I’d even like to hear him sing "My Bunny Lies Over My Doggy" (sung to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean"). But at least you get something like "Selley Sellers" which is a tongue twister read three times in an increasingly fast fashion.
It’s hard to dislike a book that contains poems with titles like, "My Puppy Punched Me In the Eye". There are some mild flubs (the idea of Lois Lane being a street is used more than once as a joke) but on the whole this is a strong collection of fun and silly poems, ideal for the kid who wants poetry concerned with robots, rabbits, and ridiculousness. Poetry just the way children like it: short and funny.
On shelves now.
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It’s Poetry Friday everyone. Under the Covers has the round-up.
Kenn is also offering schools and libraries a deal where if they purchase ten copies of My Hippo Has the Hiccups, he’ll deliver a 30 minute virtual presentation of some of his poems, along with a chat about poetry. So, not only will the kids be able to see and hear him online, but he will be able to take questions via a chat box at the bottom of the screen. All you need is a high speed internet connection. Interested parties should go to www.poetry4kids.com/freeauthorvisits for more info.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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