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Priest, Robert
Toronto, Puffin Canada, 1994. 64pp, paper, $9.99
ISBN 0-14-036368-8. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada. CIP

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11

Reviewed by Maryleah Otto

Volume 22 Number 6
1994 November / December

Robert Priest is an award-winning playwright, poet, novelist and musician who writes for both children and adults. Among his juvenile works are The Ruby Hat and Other Poems (Mercury Press, 1987) and The Short Hockey Career of Amazing Jany.

A Terrible Case of the Stars is a collection of forty-two poems, some in free verse and some rhymed, suitable for children in grades 4 to 8. Younger children may enjoy listening to them. The overall impression I had was of being in the presence of a sparkling, witty, sensitive, original, thought-provoking personality with a penchant for the zany and the bizarre. This was indeed a refreshing and joyful read.

Priest present a wide range of themes and styles. Young readers will relate at once to the poems about school, math, space, dinosaurs, robots, video games, knights and the ageless fun of splashing in the mud. On the more serious side, but of great concern to today's youngsters, are poems like "The Water Traders' Dream" and "Poem for the Ancient Trees," which are pleas for the preservation of nature and a clean environment. "In the Next War" suggests that dropping food supplies is a better solution to the world's misery than dropping bombs; "Lullaby for the Birds" is about universal brother/sisterhood. There are some beautiful, lyrical poems about nature, such as "Awesome with autumn," "springs of spring" and "Caterpillar Kids."

Many of the poems are just plain zany, nonsensical fun, occasionally laced with the sort of "gross" humour so dear to kids' hearts. "Robot Odour" is one of these, as are "The Heez," "Space Spaghetti," "Dancing with Dinosaurs" and "Robot Teacher Breakdown." "The Fly" plays with onomatopoeia. "Spir-oem," "Poem for the Ancient Trees" and "A Tall Kid Walking Fast" are all "visual" poems in as much as the form of the poem is a graphic representation of the content. There's a lot of clever word-play in "Half a Man Named Doug" and "All People Once Were Babies," which should help children to feel less threatened by intimidating adults.

I felt that "Snow Flake Minds," a lovely poem about the uniqueness of creativity, would need some explanation by teachers/ adults. "Sports Cocktail" bothered me a lot because of the idea of a grenade being used as a baseball and blowing up the batter it was just too violent to be funny.

Sometimes Priest's vocabulary is challenging, and that's fine, but children probably won't know words like cupola, catkin, pirouette, gossamer, svelte, formulae, circuitous and contemplation. But they'll certainly recognize video, blip, computer, transistor, reprogram and (micro) chip.

Don Gauthier has provided numerous line drawings that reflect the mood of the more bizarre elements in Priest's work.

This is a worthy addition to the juvenile poetry section of school and public libraries. Recommended as an entertaining and original book of poetry about the world best known to contemporary children.

Maryleah Otto is a children's author and former librarian in St. Thomas, Ontario

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