Thursday, June 29, 2006

Poetry Friday: Once Upon a Tomb

Once Upon a Tomb by J. Patrick Lewis. Illustrated by Simon Bartram. Candlewick, 2006 (0-7636-1837-3) $16.99

Guest review by Ben: "I like these pictures."

(I would not have chosen this book to read to my four-year-old son, but apparently the heart wants what it wants.)

We all have to go sometime, but as this book shows, some deaths are particularly apt. Epitaphs in rhyme for people ranging from a dairy farmer to a philosopher offer silly, gross, and occasionally witty looks at their untimely ends--the dairy farmer was crushed under a cow; the philosopher merely "came to a conclusion." There's not a lot of subtlety here: much of the humor is based on stereotypes (like the "school-lunch lady" who "never served a Jello-O mold/If it was more than six weeks old,") and the hyper-realistic caricature illustrations find the grossest possible interpretation of every verse, showing a school principal flushed down a toilet and a schoolteacher receiving an exceptionally bad papercut right through the neck. But those with a taste for the macabre, as well as for the disgusting, will find plenty to tickle them here. (To be honest, the decapitating paper airplane is pretty darn funny.) The shortest poems are perhaps the most successful: For an underwear salesman, "Our grief/Was brief." And for a fortune teller, the epitaph is simple but eloquent: "Here lies."