Wednesday, November 02, 2011


poems by Edward Lear
pictures by Valorie Fisher

Publisher: Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books

There was an old man, who when little
Fell casually into a kettle;
But, growing too stout, 

    he could never get out,
So he passed all his life in that kettle.

Edward Lear needs no introduction. Twentieth child in a family of twenty-one, raised and educated by his eldest sister, Lear's talent as an artist was natural and well appreciated in his times, so much so that Queen Victoria asked for drawing lessons from him. When at Knowsley Hall, commissioned by Earl of Derby to draw the birds and animals in that estate, Lear started writing limericks to entertain the kids there. Under the pseudonym Derry Down Derry, he published these wonderfully silly and funny poems in A Book of Nonsense.

Nonsense! is a collection fifteen of his inventive nonsensical limericks illustrated in a brilliantly whimsical fashion by Valorie Fisher. Everything about this book is completely charming. The resident six year old thinks this book is 'goofy' and 'weird' and 'funny' and 'silly' (which, btw, are all good, raving responses) and chooses to read it many times over, on and off, just for fun.

What makes this book remarkable and memorable for me, besides Lear's fun with words, is Valorie Fisher's illustrations.

Each poem is presented in a double page spread. Left side has a bold patterned vintage wallpaper-like background upon which is set the stark black text in an old-fashioned curvaceous frame. Right side has a full-page illustration which showcases Ms.Fisher's ingenuity: a comical combination of real life objects and scenes with cartoons and cut-outs that create a surreal world. (A glimpse into her style is available here).

There was an Old Person whose habits,
Induced him to feed upon Rabbits;
When he'd eaten eighteen, he turned perfectly green,
Upon which he relinquished those habits.

The illustration accompanying this poem combines small rabbit figurines in the foreground corner, cut-out collage of rabbits and trees for the background, with old-fashioned cartoon-like rendering of a typical old man with glasses, hat and an agonized expression, green all over, holding his tummy desperately.

As if this is not enough, Ms.Fisher, keeping the young ones in mind, has added two little message labels - one on the watering can and another on a shovel-like tool - defining two of the words in the poem: Induced - Caused, Relinquished - Given up. And, the wallpaper-like background for the poem on the left side is bright green with blue spots all over it.

The illustration for the poem about the Young Lady of Welling shows her fishing with her foot while playing the harp, and has a little ribbon which explains one particular word in the poem that might challenge the little ones: Accomplished - very skilled.

When my six year old read, There was an old person of Nice, Whose associates were usually Geese, she paused a bit as she read Nice as the usual word nice (like mice), and caught herself not rhyming right. And one look at the accompanying illustration with signs for La Patisserie de Nice and La Plage de Nice suggested it must be French and helped her rhyme Nice with Geese. Plus, of course, one of the signs read associate: a friend or partner, which eased the need for me to go into tedious explanation of the new word for her.

The pictures fascinated her; especially the Old Man of Berlin who got baked in a cake, the Young Lady of Ryde, the Old Person of Rheims... however, the Old Man with a nose looked a bit scary she admitted. Not that the picture is gory, just that he has such a long nose it made her wonder how he would do the everyday functions.

A gem of a book to have on the bookshelf.

[image source:]

1 comment:

sandhya said...

We love nonsense verse! It is so like the impossible things that little chilren believe to be true, the quaint neologisms- words of their own that children have for ordinary things, giving them a magic of their own! We were just reading the Jumblies yesterday, and were laughing at the 'Torrible Zone' and the 'monkey with lollipop paws'!

I have a feeling JK Rowling loves nonsense verse, whether of Edward Lear, Lewis Caroll, Dr Seuss...the names she gives some of her characters, spells, things, etc. show a very clever use of the combination of language, mythology and just plain meaning.

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