A collection of 22 poems for kids, accompanied by homespun illustrations.
From the first poem “Invasion,” an ode to dust bunnies, Combs makes it refreshingly clear that rhythm and language trump solemn moralizing in this children’s book. This is a lesson in itself since Combs’ playfulness as a poet makes the English language fun rather than something for children to fear. Every poem, from “The Barnyard Ballet,” in which “Pigs wore pink tutus / And cows donned blue gowns, / Leaping from barns, / Pirouetting though towns,” to “A Rare Pair” (“There was an umbrella / Who was an odd fella; / It just didn’t work like the rest”) have an easy cadence and engaging musicality accessible to readers both young and old. The simple graphite and pen-and-colored-pencil pictures present a whimsical context for the delightful words. In fact, if there’s one thing the book needs, it’s more illustrations. “Peter The Eater,” about a boy who ate “Crunchy red ants, / mud cakes and flies, / His mother’s house plants / and bumblebee pies,” is a standout, but with five pages of words followed by only one drawing of Peter, it feels a bit sparse. (But that’s a minor quibble in the face of the multitude of illustrations accompanying “Bonaparte Gulls / and Sandwich Terns, / Boat-tailed Grackles / and Fiddle-head Ferns” in “Real Silly Names.”) Indeed, the Dr. Seuss-like wonder and enchantment that shines throughout makes the reader only want more of this author’s original vision. In this sense, the collection feels like a sketch for a more substantive work. For example, at a mere seven pages “My Closet Monster,” about a bogeyman “With bumpy skin, / the color of grapes” cries out to be expanded into a fully developed short story. There’s even “The Queen of Dirt” Emma McBean, who lives in squalor until one day she and her stench mysteriously disappear. The tale behind this character would seem nearly novelistic, conjuring up images just begging to be born on the page.
A work of unbridled joy sweetly rendered with a lot of heart.