September 01, 2016
(++++) POETIC INJUSTICE
No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood. By Calvin Trillin. Pictures by Roz Chast. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $17.99.
Pirasaurs! By Josh Funk. Illustrations by Michael Slack. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $14.99.
There is considerable reality underlying Calvin Trillin’s No Fair! No Fair! Trillin explains the inspiration, if that is the right word, of some of the poems in an Author’s Note at the back of the book. Certainly if the cliché is correct that “living well is the best revenge,” then writing amusing poetry about the depredations of childhood must be second-best. Actually, the four short poems that give the book its title are among the very best in Trillin’s book. They are collected as “Evening Complaints.” One, for example, is called “Taking a Bath,” and it goes as follows: “You said that it is not all right/ For me to skip a bath tonight./ I have to take one, even though/ I took a bath two days ago./ You even said, ‘Let’s wash that hair.’/ No fair, no fair, no fair, no fair.” Add to the perfection of that rhyme scheme and the thoroughly apt expressiveness of that final line a picture-perfect picture by Roz Chast, with scowling bottles called “Lotso-Tears Shampoo” and “Big-Owie Rinse” sneeringly remarking, “We’ve been waiting for you,” and you have one of the small frustrations of childhood writ large and rendered, if not palatable, at least highly amusing. The four “Evening Complaints” would be great for parents to read out loud to their recalcitrant children (the other three deal with wanting to watch cartoons, not wanting to do math homework, and wanting to stay up later). Other poems are just right for kids themselves to toss at the adults in their lives, such as the four “Morning Complaints” dealing with getting dressed, eating breakfast, going to school, and sharing a school-bus seat. A number of Trillin’s poems are longer, though. There is an extended one about a girl who shares her bed with 80 stuffed animals that “keep nighttime from being much scarier” – and who wants even more bedtime companions. There is one about two sisters playing together – with the younger one resenting the fact that the older gets all the good make-believe roles: “At times we are both busy building/ A passenger spaceship with chairs./ Then she is the astronaut captain./ And me? I’m collecting the fares.” There is one about the competitive game of taking up more than half the backseat, and one called “The Grandpa Rule Is in Effect” in which the rule of the title is simply “to do what we would like to do.” There is plenty of wry amusement in No Fair! No Fair! And there is lots of reminiscence of the everyday irritations of being a kid, too. Chast’s pictures complement Trillin’s poems beautifully – both author and illustrator are frequent contributors to The New Yorker and clearly have a sense of the sort of oddity that pervades that magazine’s pages, here toned down in an age-appropriate picture-book way. This is a book that earns the exclamation points of its title – both of them.
There is also an exclamation point, just one, in the title of Josh Funk’s Pirasaurs! It is well-earned, too. This is another poetic book, with Funk’s rhymes carrying the story through from start to finish. And Michael Slack’s odd illustrations, in which the dinosaur characters seem to have been cut from colored paper, fit the rollicking rhyming very well. “With spiky tails, we raise the sails/ To search for gold and more!/ We must beware, for everywhere/ Are enemies galore!” So says the very small dinosaur who narrates the book – just as a flying reptile dumps a bucket of slop on his head. The little narrator tries hard to fit in with the “buccaneering beasts,” from Triceracook to navigator Velocimate to Bronto Beard, who both steers the ship and, using his long neck, serves as lookout – even though he has only one eye (the other being covered by a typically piratical eye patch). But, the small dino says, “Beside them all, I feel quite small./ I’m still so very new.” It is left to him, though, to discover that his crew has been led into a trap while searching for treasure – another crew of dino pirates is on the same small island with nefarious plans of its own. Soon, “A mighty clash/ Erupts upon the sand.” But then the little narrator spots the other dinos’ map and shouts that there is a better way – share the maps and share the treasure. And sure enough, the two maps, side by side, lead the dinos where neither map could take them on its own. And the little dino gets his fondest wish: “It’s been my dream to join the team./ This crew and I are linked./ With gems, doubloons, and silver spoons/ We’ll never go extinct!” The super silliness of the swaggering pirate dinosaurs, combined with the ridiculous rhyming rhythm of the story, will delight kids who are eager to do a little swaggering and swordplay of their own, if only in their imaginations.