From Edward Lear to Robert Frost, former Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis emulates some of the most famous English-speaking poets with a collection that is cleverly filled with math problems. Each poem is a twist on an original, published poem and maintains the original’s poetic form. Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem “The Raven” becomes “Edgar Allan Poe’s Apple Pie.” It begins “upon a midnight rotten”, makes reference to a forgotten apple pie, and ends with the question, “How many cuts / Give me ten pieces?”. The answer, which I refuse to reveal, is given in small, upside-down text on the next page.
Artist Michael Slack provides digitally rendered, retro-style art that pops with amazing textures and colors. Children familiar with the now-defunct cartoon Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends may enjoy the similarities between Slack’s illustrations and the show’s. Each illustration fits well with the subject of each poem. In the illustration that accompanies the poem “Robert Frost’s Boxer Shorts”, a round-bellied man sits atop a horse clad only in boots, gloves, a cowboy hat, and underwear. The horse is drawn bug-eyed and his legs are comically short.
Lewis succeeds in reproducing a Rubaiyat Poem, which is a beautifully fancy way of saying a set of quatrain stanzas. The poem’s funny ending is sure to amuse young readers: “These boxer shorts are not half bad / With lions, tigers, stripes, and plaid. / My tightie whities look so sad. / My tightie whities look so sad”. The math puzzler in this poem is the question of how much money was spent purchasing boxer shorts. The answer is, of course, flipped upside-down at the bottom of the page. Some of the math puzzlers are fun to solve, such as how many cuts it will take to produce five slices of pie. Other puzzlers are a bit trickier and may require a pencil and paper for folks like me who are not that quick on the draw.
The book ends with a section called “And now some prose about the poets…” Slack provides bust illustrations for Lewis’s short, but informative bios of each poet. This book is an excellent resource for school librarians who want to introduce students to new poets. The math puzzlers even make the book a great tool for math teachers. “This book could come in handy for a variety of different classroom purposes, but confirmed mathletes are probably the best bet for an audience” (Chipman 2010). Although it can be incredibly challenging, students and young library patrons, particularly those who belong to a creative writing club, might enjoy trying a hand at giving an old poem a new twist. Ask the kids to work in groups to facilitate brainstorming and to make the process less daunting.
Chipman, Ian. April 2012. Booklist. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:2125/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|36322755|35649920&mc=USA#. Accessed October 8, 2013.