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Dennis Lee
Illustrated by David McPhail
Toronto, HarpcrCollins, 1991. 64pp, laminated board, $14.95
ISBN 0-00-223749-0. (Alligator Press). CIP

Pre-school to Grade 6/Ages 3 to 11

Reviewed by Maryleah Otto

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

Dennis Lee's new collection of poems for children has as its theme "kids around the world." In the course of sixty-nine poems we meet youngsters from many parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the West Indies, the United States and Canada. We even meet a few Martians!

Some of the poems are direct de­scendants of Mother Goose. For ex­ample "Nine Black Cats" is a Canadian cousin of "As I Was Going to St. Ives." In fact, nearly all of the poems echo traditional nursery rhymes in form and meter. Compare "Maxine the Taxi" with "Miss Polly Has a Dolly" or "Rose Petals Pink" with "Pease Porridge Hot." Sometimes there’s reminder of A.A. Milne, as in "I Know It's Time" and "The Secret Place." Many, like "Mrs. Mitchell's Underwear," "Big Bad Billy" and "Gumbo Stew," are vintage Lee at his outrageous best. And show me the child who won't get the giggles at the spoonerisms of "Bappy Earthday":

There's a tangle in my tungle
And I can't rock tight,
And I reel so feely bungled
That I set I book a light!

But I'm getting all invited,
'Cause the farty will be pun
Which you graciously excited me
To come to, sane or run.

In "Down in Patagonia," Lee plays humorously with rhymes for "onia," so we have "a walrus on its ownia playing its trombonia while swimming all alonia." "Doh-si-doh" celebrates the fun of square dancing. "Dooby Dooby," a chant that uses contemporary slang such as "it's such a drag, flipped my lid, stop her yak" has a refrain that will likely be heard in schoolyards for years to come:

Dooby, dooby, in your eye
Dooby, dooby, punkin pie

Dooby, dooby, in your hair
Dooby, dooby, I don't care.

A few of the poems are lyrical, for example, 'The Water-go-round/' "Secrets" and "By the Light of the Moon," all of which have beautiful imagery. "Wild!" is a very serious plea for environmental protection.

David McPhail's full-colour paint­ings, over seventy of them, are to the eye exactly what Lee's poems are to the ear, that is, pure joy and great fun. The pictures are not only executed with perfect mastery, they also indicate the artist's ability to read the author's mind, bringing the poetry lo life in such a way as to create the mood and feelings of each poem as well as its theme, setting and characters. These superb illustra­tions must surely be award winners.

So - heartiest congratulations to Lee, McPhail and Alligator Press for bringing a brand new Canadian classic to children anywhere. Move over Mother Goose and welcome these twentieth-century goslings to the family!

Maryleah Otto, St. Thomas Public Library, St. Thomas, Ont.
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