Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I've Been Burping in the Classroom -- a National Poetry Month book review

Yesterday, I bought myself a copy of I've Been Burping in the Classroom: And Other Silly Sing-Along Songs, "created by" Bruce Lansky, illustrated by Stephen Carpenter.

The collection features 19 song parodies set to 13 song tunes by 10 poets. Some of the parodies are more successful than others -- there are two set to "I've Been Working on the Railroad," one of which is the title poem. It starts out strongly, but a few of the lines don't actually fit the song properly without forcing them. "I've Been Sitting in Detention" is a more successful fit, but even it has one line missing a syllable. I'm wondering whether Bruce Lansky thinks one line of the tune goes differently than I think it does, since the same line is skewed in both versions of the song, and so I'm willing to think perhaps that line is "off" on purpose.

The parody "My Favorite Fibs" by Neal Levin is tremendously winning. Here's a smidgeon to give you an idea of it:

Spot ate my homework; he thought it was chicken.
Aliens landed and gave me a lickin'.
Can't raise my hand; I got poked in the ribs.
These are a few of my favorite fibs.

Can't wear a backpack; it's bad for my shoulders.
Can't find my notebooks and can't find my folders.
Can't write in pen; I'm allergic to ink.
Can't change for gym 'cause the uniforms stink.

When I'm flunking,
when I'm tardy,
when the due date's passed,
I simply remember my favorite fibs,
and then I am free---at last!

Other poems that actually work perfectly include the two parodies of "Do Your Ears Hang Low": "Do You Get Marked Down?" by Linda Knaus and "Do Your Big Feet Smell?" by Steve Charney. Both manage to be extremely funny while fitting the tunes flawlessly. "My Locker is Obscene" by Kathy Kenney-Marshall is set to the tune of "America: My Country 'Tis of Thee". I must say I found the lyrical tune an odd counterpoint to the words of the song, which included a vast amount of odd items.

"Oh My Darling, Valentine" and "Lovely Teacher" are both successful parodies set to the tune of "Clementine." Kenn Nesbitt, who wrote the "Valentine" parody, even provides a winking reference to the lyrics of the original song in his opening lyrics: "In a toy store/on a Sunday/with a dollar forty-nine . . .". I award him bonus points for invoking the number forty-nine here.

"The Kindergarten Concert", set to the tune of "America the Beautiful," was spot on in fitting lyrics to the tune, and its author, Robert Pottle, has written quite a funny poem, but I'm not entirely convinced (yet) that it will appeal to children quite as much as to adults. The second verse goes:

They sang their song while Wyatt burped, and then he did a dance.
Then Michael fell while spinning 'round, and Peter wet his pants.
The music teacher at the end said, "There, I'm glad that's done."
The kindergarten bowed and said, "Let's sing another one!"

Does it sound like many a kindergarten concert I've seen? Yeah, sure. Will kids figure out what's funny about it? Well, sure they'll laugh about burping and peeing pants, but the over-arching humor might escape them. And maybe that's okay -- it makes the poem funny to both the adult reader and to the child reader. I just hope it's funny enough for the kids. I'll have to give this one a public test-drive before I decide.

There are two poems set to "Miss Suzy", put on facing pages (conveniently numbered, btw, something that sadly isn't always the case in collections these days). On page 20 is "It's Finally Friday" by Paul Orshoski, whose poem "Bigfoot's Bottom" I liked so well last fall in Dinner with Dracula. Orshoski's poem here is particularly funny because after a litany of woes, you learn that the speaker isn't a student -- he's the school's new principal. On the facing page, Bruck Lansky offers "My Teacher Loves Her iPod," also funny because it not only involves technology, but also involves a teacher in trouble.

As the title implies, I've Been Burping in the Classroom is all about school, and every parody in the book takes place inside an elementary school. Most of the songs will be appreciated by kids who also spend their days inside that particular sort of building.

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