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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Hort, Lenny Tie Your Socks and Clap Your Feet;illus. by Stephen Kroninger. Schwartz/Atheneum, 2000. 32p
ISBN 0-689-83195-1   $16.00    Gr. 2-6

Nonsense is a tricky poetic concept. Sometimes poets seem to view the nonsensical as an excuse to abandon all logic, leaving the verses spinning aimlessly in fantasyland with nothing to be funny about. More effective nonsensifiers use nonsense to be funny about sense, creating absurdity in the difference between the nonsensical object and its logical shadow, and leaving readers happily certain about their ability to detect deviations from reality and gladly embracing those deviations. Nonsense is, indeed, Wonderland, and its appeal for youngsters is undeniable.

It's also alive and gleefully kicking in these dozen and a half verses. Hort does an excellent job of keeping the requisite sense and playing off of it, whether it be in lullabies ("Sweet little baby's just seven feet tall/ Baby, don't eat Mommy's nice bowling ball/ Baby's cute mustache is starting to curl./ What an adorable, sweet baby girl"-"Sweet Little Baby"), pastoral verse ("A pair of purple oranges-/ ooh, what a treat!/ Peppery cool/ and lemony sweet . . . "-"A Pair of Purple Oranges"), or folklore ("The king of New York/ and her nephew, the queen,/ were painting their castle/ with iced gasoline . . . "-"Fairy Tale"). The verse has a vigor and simple gamesmanship that will appeal even to novice nonsensees (and that will also make the book gigglingly shareable with younger listeners); its tidy twists are reminiscent of traditional jingles of inversion such as "One bright day in the middle of the night/ Two dead boys got up to fight. . . . " The poems' various themes (pets, food, music, clothes) also help keep them on track, and the verses gleefully touch on reliably entertaining taboos such as toilets (Junior, in "Our New House," cooks on the toilet seat) and underwear (stolen by a strange beast in "The Beast"). Scansion isn't perfect but the rhythms are strong and varied, suitable for all kinds of creative performance ranging from reading aloud to rap.

The marriage of art and text is a blissful one: Kroninger's collages, created from cut paper and magazine photographs, take the nonsensical concepts to their literal apotheosis. "Grandbrother always wears five hats" because his head is actually a hand with headgear on each finger; the speaker in "A Pair of Purple Oranges," who "opened up my nose/ and drank" the fruit in question, is, logically, an elephant (and yes, elephants don't technically drink through their noses either, but natural history this isn't). Tropical hues provide a loud and friendly background for the concocted figures, who have a solidity and high-spirited pizzazz that differentiate them from Lane Smith's more sly and sinister conglomerates; the sophisticated look will attract older reluctant readers who will stay for the anarchy of the easily digestible poetry. The pictures are all the more bizarre for making so much, well, sense: it's hard to argue with eyes that are actual photographed eyes and with noses and mouths initially sported by real people, even though they're borrowed and reshuffled and occasionally utilized by a dog or a red pepper, and what better than a piece of wool sweater to represent the body of a sheep?

Though it's inventive, this isn't for those searching for delicate nuance: both text and art are unapologetically, brassily, jubilantly unsubtle. The effect, though, is an inviting "I could do that" aura of accessibility; this book might well, in fact, inspire some enjoyable emulation in language-arts or art class assignments. It'll also be just plain fun for any number of other uses. If you're looking to put a little less sense in a kid's life, this is your book.

--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor

Big Picture Image
June's Bulletin cover illustration by Stephen Kroninger
from Tie Your Socks and Clap Your Feet,
Copyright 2000. Used by permission of Schwartz/Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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This page was last updated on June 1, 2000.