Do you love goofy tongue twisters, camp songs, and puns? I do! And so does Jon Agee, author of several picture books and wordplay books on palindromes, anagrams, spoonerisms, and more. He has now turned his attention to poetry, with Orangutan Tongs; Poems to Tangle Your Tongue, a collection of 34 poems that beg to be read aloud, sure to be accompanied by giggles and laughter.
The poem, “Two Tree Toads” begins “A three-toed tree toad tried to tie/ A two-toed tree toad’s shoe” and I was immediately reminded of Alvin Schwartz’s collection of folk rhymes, particularly “A tree toad loved a she-toad/ That lived up in a tree.” Then, I turned to “I Saw Esau on a seesaw. Esau, he saw Lee” which has echoes of Iona and Peter Opie’s folkrhyme collection, I Saw Esau, The Schoolchild’s Pocket Book (illustrated by Maurice Sendak). The two rhymes (and more) share that delicious nonsensical quality of rhymes that are fun to say (faster and faster), even if you don’t have any idea what it means! I could go on and on.
Then… I was studying the Index that Agee provides at the back of Orangutan Tongs and saw this note:
“Most of the poems in this book were inspired by classic English-language tongue twisters, which I gathered from a variety of sources, notably Alvin Schwartz’s A Twister of Twists, A Tangler of Tongues (1972).” EUREKA! I was so proud of myself! Agee has provided a menu of story rhymes that have the ring of playground chants—they seem like they’ve been around forever.
Add to this the accessibility of this collection—the font is a big, fat “primer” kind of print that is so friendly and easy to read. And each poem is set against an oversized watercolor picture with a scene of deadpan directness, the perfect foil for the nonsense poems. And now I want to make thank you notes out of this poem:
by Jon Agee
I was thinking of thanking you,
as you can see,
I wanted to thank you
for thinking of me.
But now that I’ve thanked you,
I guess I am free
Of thinking of thanking you
thinking of me.
Agee, Jon. 2009. Orangutan Tongs; Poems to Tangle Your Tongue. New York: Disney-Hyperion, p. 43.
Isn’t that irresistible? Agee’s ear is perfectly tuned to the sing-song rhythm and quickening pace that makes such verses work. I dare you to read these silently. You can’t!
For more about folk and playground rhymes, here’s an excerpt from my book, Poetry Aloud Here:
Many children—and adults—don’t realize that the silly songs, rollicking rhymes, and nonsense games we learn in early childhood are indeed a form of literature. Folk poetry is the poetry you don’t even realize is poetry. Rhymes on the playground like "Cinderella dressed in yellow" have no known author and yet are familiar to many generations of children. These rhyming verses can also be included in our poetry collections. Books of riddles, chants, tongue twisters, jumprope rhymes, finger plays, handclapping games, autograph sayings and more often contain poetry and verse. What’s more, children are often intrigued to find in print the verses they have heard and known only orally and only in the domain outside of school—at home and at play.
Alvin Schwartz’s collection of uniquely American verse, And the Green Grass Grew All Around (1992) is one of my favorites and has so many wonderful examples that children will enjoy. You may be surprised, for example, to discover that there are second and third verses to poems you knew only one verse of as a child. For additional examples, look for Iona and Peter Opie’s I saw Esau: The Schoolchild’s Pocketbook (1992) or Virginia Tashjian’s Juba This and Juba That (1969). Authors and collaborators Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson have also created several collections of folk poetry worth knowing about such as Anna Banana: 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes (1989). And Judy Sierra has gathered a gem with Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun (2005).
Several comprehensive collections of folk poetry are available and very appealing to young audiences of all ages. This medium helps validate children’s experiences, link oral and written modes of expression, and invite active, even physical participation (Vardell & Jacko, 2005). Children can collect other examples on audio or videotape and explore neighborhood, cultural, and linguistic variations (Vardell, Hadaway & Young, 2002). They can translate their English favorites into other languages represented in their community. Older children may enjoy exploring the historical roots of childhood folklore or writing down new and unfamiliar examples.
EXTRA BONUS: Listen to the song based on the title poem, "Orangutan Tongs" (via Jon’s Web site).
Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.