cover image A BURST OF FIRSTS: Doers, Shakers, and Record Breakers

A BURST OF FIRSTS: Doers, Shakers, and Record Breakers

J. Patrick Lewis, , illus. by Brian Ajhar. . Dial, $15.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2108-1

Lewis (Good Mousekeeping, reviewed above) trolls the annals of history and trivia for this collection of paeans to subjects as varied as "The Biggest Bubble-Gum Bubble Ever Blown" (23 inches wide) to the "First American Woman in Space." The less sublime accomplishments offer Lewis a target for puns and wordplay, as in this ode to Levi Strauss, "First Person to Create Blue Jeans": "Half the world's been redesigned,/ Sew it seams, on its behind." The witty "First Parachute Wedding" concludes, "From skies above/ They fell … in love./ Her wedding vow?/ A simple "Wow!" In a different vein, the highly accomplished "First Person to Break the Color Barrier in Baseball" opens with this description of Jackie Robinson: "Inching along the third-base line,/ the Prince of Easy Afternoons/ would suddenly explode for home/ in the astonished air." On the other hand, a number of entries seem overblown or stale (of an ancient redwood: "A redwood bud began to grow/ And watch the seasons come and go"). Unfortunately, the poems are underserved by Ajhar's (Scarlett Angelina Wolverton-Manning) brittle, cartoonish illustrations. Despite the range of moods in the verses, the artwork reduces everything to caricature, as in portraits that exaggerate the features of Ruby Bridges ("First Child to Integrate an All-White School") and Elvis Presley ("First King of Rock 'n' Roll"), or to silliness, as in Lewis's awe-filled homage to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, for which the two are portrayed as kangaroos in space suits (one phrase mentions, "They hopped like kangaroos because/ Of gravity"). Even with their whimsicality, the one-note visuals homogenize the collection's quirks and eccentricities. Ages 5-up. (May)