CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006
Ignore the subject headings provided by the cataloguer at the National Library of Canada. The word “rhymes” in the title should have been an obvious hint to this anonymous librarian that Anderson’s book was poetry, not prose, and a quick glance at the first entry would have confirmed that the book’s content was not just poetry but a particular form - the limerick, 22 of them to be exact. The limerick, which is characterized by its five lines which have an aabba rhyme scheme, typically has three anapestic feet (two unaccented or short syllables followed one stressed or long syllable: da-da-dum) in lines 1, 2 and 5 and only two feet in lines 3 and 4. In the main, Anderson hits the mark with the form’s rollicking rhythm, but the rhythms of a couple of his limericks are somewhat rocky, and those limericks need to be read a few times in order to force the desired sound.
Considered to be a light, humorous form of poetry, the limerick treats subject matter that ranges from the silly to the obscene. Since the intended audience for Do Unto Otters and Other Bedtime Rhymes is children, the volume naturally never becomes obscene, but its contents do include some “kid-naughty” subject matter - flatulence, vomiting, smelly feet, and being bit on the bum (by the individual’s own false teeth). Because the limerick is really a form of joke, as can be seen in the excerpt, the first four lines usually function as the setup to the punch line found in the final line. Good limericks should also have some aspect of the absurd, a characteristic well demonstrated in the book’s final limerick wherein the punned-upon Golden Rule is visually transformed into “Eat or be eaten.”
In terms of design, each of the 22 limericks is treated in a pair of facing pages. The left hand page contains the limerick plus a half-page illustration that, in broad terms, addresses the poem’s subject matter. A full-page painting then appears on the right hand page, and it provides the visual punch line. Using the excerpt limerick as an example, it can be seen that the illustrator, Sheldon Dawson, has placed a bemedaled prize-winning hen above the poem, but his facing full-page painting of an ax-sharpening Dad leaves no doubt as to which chicken will be fried that night. Throughout the book, Dawson’s detailed illustrations, rendered in acrylic on illustration board, are simply outstanding, and they add a great deal to the poems by imaginatively extending their contents and by capturing the characters’ emotions. Pemmican Publications is a Métis publishing house, and Dawson unobtrusively reminds readers of that fact by occasionally including a Métis sash as part of some individuals’ apparel. For instance, one limerick about a woman’s smelly feet takes place in St. Laurent. While Manitobans may likely be aware that St. Laurent is a Métis community, Dawson subtly underlines this fact to others by having the dancing couple wearing moccasins and the sash.
The appearance of the word “bedtime” in the title seems odd as limericks are not a form of literature which readily puts children to sleep. Instead of the poems being soothing or calming, their rhythmic nature, in fact, invites listeners to want to create their own limericks - not a behaviour parents seek to encourage at bedtime. However, such creativity has a place in the classroom, and this collection and other limerick collections offer an excellent way to introduce poetry, especially to those who see themselves as “hating” this literary form.
Do Unto Otters and Other Bedtime Rhymes is an excellent home, school and library purchase.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.