You don’t have to be a geographer (or a toponymist, to get really specific) to take pleasure in odd place names, and there are far too few gazetteers out there for a new one to come amiss.
Herman’s contribution, then, is welcome, despite its weaknesses. First the strengths: Herman proceeds alphabetically by state, focusing on one curious place name and providing an explanation of its origin (or multiple possible explanations). Another dozen or so humorous place names are noted (with a few given very brief expository treatment), and a number of unusual state facts are delivered. Well and good, but this material, which can easily stand on its own, is bedeviled by a near-desperate striving for laughs. Not content to let the strange place names pull their comic weight, Herman douses them with corniness and puns and running jokes and enough exclamation marks to curl a Monkey’s Eyebrow (that’s in Kentucky). Another weakness is the artwork. Maps are a hotbed for artistic expression, but—except for the cover, which allows for color—Goldman’s maps feel anemic (the place names under discussion are not located on her state maps), scratchy and overly whimsical, with accompanying line drawings that are arbitrary or in anxiously eccentric pursuit of yet more mirth.
Still, there is a bedrock of toponymic glory here, certainly enough to make some readers fall in love with geography. (Nonfiction. 8-12)