Friday, May 06, 2011

His Shoes Were Far Too Tight

Edward Lear is known by many as the father of nonsense poetry. While silly poems existed before Lear started writing, his title is still well-deserved, since he wrote quite a large amount of nonsense poetry. In 1846, A Book of Nonsense, his first collection of nonsense poems was published.

As a child, Daniel Pinkwater especially enjoyed reading The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear, which he repeatedly borrowed from his local library. Daniel has written a marvelous introduction to this collection of Edward Lear's poems, which manages to introduce the reader to Lear and to the idea of nonsense poetry in an engaging way. What follows is a collection of ten Lear poems selected by Daniel Pinkwater, including the well-known favorites, "The Owl and the Pussycat" and "The Jumblies", each of which is accompanied by illustrations done by Calef Brown, himself a poet as well as an illustrator. The quirkiness and bold color of the illustrations pairs extremely well with the often silly verses penned by Lear, and this book makes an excellent introduction to Lear's work. The book's title is derived from a recurring line in "Some Incidents in the Life of My Uncle Arly".

One of my favorite Lear words is "runcible", an invented nonsense word that seems to stand in to mean whatever Lear wants it to at any given time. It is clear that it is (a) silly and (b) an adjective, and beyond that there's no clear meaning of the word. The word appears at least twice in this collection – once in "How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear!" and again in "The Owl and the Pussycat".

This book is an excellent introduction to nonsense poetry and to the works of Edward Lear. Highly recommended for fans of silly poems and for libraries everywhere. My thanks to the good people at Chronicle Books for sending me a review copy.

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