cover image THE WISHING BONE and Other Poems

THE WISHING BONE and Other Poems

Stephen Mitchell, , illus. by Tom Pohrt. . Candlewick, $16.99 (56pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1118-7

Dressy packaging gives Mitchell's (The Nightingale) collection of nine nonsense poems an elegant look, but underneath the sophisticated wrapping, the rhymes strike a disappointing flat note. The book's appearance—elongated trim size, ornamented page numbers and varied layouts—raises expectations, as does Pohrt's accomplished artwork. Muted ink-and-watercolor illustrations counter the absurdities of the poems with a deadpan formality, similar to the juxtaposition in Pohrt's Having a Wonderful Time. The animal characters, especially for "The Trial," a lengthy rhyming commentary on a literal kangaroo court, are spot-on in their witty anthropomorphicisms. Readers will encounter instances of inspired wordplay, as in "The Answer," which clearly nods at the inimitable "Jabberwocky": "It was a bilgy, bulgy night/ Inside the whiffle bog./ The ling-langs howled, obstreperous;/ The owls, ambideperous,/ Fell both ways through the fog." However, such fresh snippets are isolated. For example, "The Answer" also includes the impenetrable lines "I asked him why, I asked him whence,/ I asked him whither-ho./ I asked him if my gravity/ Would lift inside the Cavity/ And where the greens would go." The meter is polished, but the language lacks joie de vivre. The unevenness proves particularly problematic, given the length of the

poems; it is hard to appreciate the clever similes and ear-pleasing alliteration of lines such as "My tongue felt limp as liverwurst./ My mind was in a daze,/ As if it were a slice of bread/ Spread thick with mayonnaise" when they are buried in the unwieldy, 30-plus stanzas of "The Last of the Purple Tigers." A soirée of silliness more belabored than amusing. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)