Review of "If You Were a Chocolate Mustache"

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache Review by Catherine Baty

Lewis, J. Patrick, and Matthew Cordell. 2012. If You Were a Chocolate Mustache.

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache is a collection of poems by J. Patrick Lewis and does not have a narrative to summarize. Beginning with shoes that can only walk backwards, to “Book Riddles” that make readers think, and even good advice, “Never Spit from a Roller Coaster”, Lewis, like Silverstein, shows an easy air of humor that will draw in readers all the way to the sleepy, dreamy end described in “The Impossibles”.

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache is an individual poet compilation by J. Patrick Lewis, and includes illustrations by Matthew Cordell. Though this book lacks a narrative, that does not mean that it lacks unifying elements. Every bit of this collection seeks a laugh and it succeeds. Lewis’ style is whimsical. He plays with the words on the page. I am reminded of playing with stuffed animals as a child. As I directed my toys to act out my plays, so does Lewis direct his words. His use of onomatopoeia and spacing make his poems prime real estate for read alouds in the classroom, home or at the library. The poem, “Dragon Dryer” is a great example of this. “It thumps against the Washer/ Monster — blam, blam, blam!/The Dragon Dryer’s rocking/ On its heels and toes/ So hard I think it must be/ Having breakfast, Toastie Clothes.” This poem also stands as an example of Lewis’ rhythm and rhyming style. Every poem has a distinct bounce that will quickly engage children as well as aid in memorization and recitation. When read aloud, the reader should be careful to enunciate, the rhythm comes so naturally that an unfamiliar reader may trip over some words in an effort to keep on beat. Besides the general tone of whimsy, there is another unifying factor, that of Cordell’s illustrations. These simple ink drawings are literal representations of Lewis’ words and disregard most subtext, adding to the nonsensical attitude. They fit together so well, it is as if Lewis and Cordell are school friends creating these humorous masterpieces in the back of a classroom. The recommended age group for this book is 3rd through 6th grade, but I have a difficult time putting an upper age limit on poetry. I think that older students would have fun with some of these poems if used as a poetry break in an English class or even for read aloud practice. It’s no fun going straight to Shakespeare, but having the chance to learn about the elements of recitation from something fun, like this, will help students to enjoy poetry as a whole.

“The U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate has put together a collection of rollicking and informative poems. This anthology is filled with poems to teach with, or to just be appreciated for the enjoyment of the rhythm of poetry.” – Lisa Hunt, Library Media Connection in May/June 2013

“Each selection is flavored by a humorous pen-and-ink illustration by Cordell, who tends to favor a literal reading of events…. The collection will serve as a strong resource for creative-writing prompts. A great big feast of poems.” – Teresa Pfeifer, School Library Journal on October 1st 2012

“In offbeat poems that include haikus, limericks, riddles, and wordplay of every kind, current children’s poet laureate Lewis offers quirky contemplations, silly vignettes, and improbable events.” – Contributor, Publishers Weekly on October 1, 2012

Gather with other comical poetry books, such as:

  • Katz, Alan, Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking, ISBN 9781416935186
  • Nesbitt, Kenn and Margeaux Lucas, The Aliens Have Landed at Our School!, ISBN 9781415649626
  • Fitch, Sheree and Yayo, If I Had a Million Onions, ISBN 9781896580784
  • Silverstein, Shel, Where the Sidewalk Ends, ISBN 9780060256685

Use as a poetry break for older students. Before jumping into emotionally deep poetry evaluation, have students practice with lighthearted alternatives written for a younger audience. This will help them to not feel intimidated by poetry or literature evaluation if they start small and fun.

Throughout the term, have students of any age choose a poem to recite in front of the class. Poetry is meant to be heard, not just read. This will help to make poetry more real and meaningful to the students. I suggest having a sign-up sheet so that less outgoing students can not feel intimidated or as panicked about reciting a poem in front of their peers.

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