Mister Lemur's Train of Thought is a bit hard to classify. It's a self-published book of poems for kids, one that sneaks in a fair bit of education (particularly vocabulary and science). It's not the sort of book that I generally review, but something about it (probably the authors' passion for engaging kids through literacy) caught my eye.
Mister Lemur creators Hans and Jen Hartvickson fell in love with playful, curious lemurs while on a trip to Madagascar, and decided to use lemurs (with poetry) as the basis for engaging kids in learning. They visit schools (classrooms and assemblies), doing presentations to "educates students about the process of creating a book, the importance of planning and goal setting, and the basics of rhyme, meter and poetry". More details can be found here. They also publish an enewsletter, and offer free coloring pages, audio downloads, puzzles, etc. on their website. The book is just one component in an enthusiastic, curiosity-promoting enterprise. (I'll bet that Hans and Jen would get along with Kim and Jason Kotecki from Escape Adulthood).
But back to the book. Mister Lemur's Train of Thought is a 150 page book consisting of 66 lightly illustrated poems/stories. The poems range in length from just a few lines to several pages each. A little sketch of a caboose indicates the end of each story. The authors were clearly inspired by the work of Shel Silverstein - Mister Lemur's Train of Thought bears a visual similarity to Silverstein's books. The writing is not at Silverstein's level, of course, but I think that kids will enjoy it. The rhythm and rhymes are consistent, and there are flashes of wit sprinkled throughout.
Mister Lemur's Train of Thought probably isn't a book that you'll want to sit down and read straight through. There's not enough variation in the meter or creativity in the rhyme selections for that. Some of the lines didn't quite scan for me. But it's nice for dipping into, and reading a poem or three at a time. I think that kids who like poetry will enjoy it, and that it may inspire them to write some poems of their own.
The Hartvicksons do a nice job of integrating educational elements into the poems without being heavy-handed. They use advanced vocabulary words ("asylum"), or scientific or historical terms ("phylum"), and then define them in a small footnote. Parents reading aloud to kids can ask the kids to guess at the definition, based on the context of the poem, before reading the official definition. Some of the poems are clearly written to illustrate a particular concept (e.g., symbiosis), while others are just there for fun. Overall, I would say that the fun wins out over the education (necessary if kids are to accept the book). Here are a few examples of the concepts behind the poems:
- A petting zoo in which the animals come to pet the kids.
- A ghoul's school in which the game involves grabbing people's eyes.
- A kangaroo with a damaged knee that can't hop (until he gets a pogo stick crutch).
- Use of the continental plates as huge dinner plates (and the resulting earthquakes).
- The difference between crocodiles and gators.
And here are a couple of samples (each the first part of a longer entry):
"Bounding through the vast outback
a kangaroo felt his knee crack.
He landed funny on a hop,
his twisted knee went "crackle-pop."
A joey with an injured knee
does not have much mobility.
They put a brace on nice and tight
and gave him heaps of Vegemite."
"Young Judy hated clean up duty.
The playroom was a mess.
So nicks and nacks and jacks and tacks
would always coalesce
around the places people walk
and General Jack, her dad,
preferred that things be neat and tight.
Her messes made him mad."
While Mister Lemur himself has an engaging grin, the black and white sketched illustrations are not of professional illustrator quality. This is probably the biggest shortcoming of the book, and may turn off some readers, though they do add visual interest to the poems. (Hard to read about the benefits of duck dentistry without seeing a sketch of a duck with a big toothy smile.) The book itself is well-constructed, with a sturdy binding and thick, bright-white paper. A table of contents at the front will help families refer back to favorites later, and launches the train motif by being called "Daily Departures".
All in all, I enjoyed Mister Lemur's Train of Thought. I'll keep it around to try out on Baby Bookworm in five years or so. And in the meantime, I'll look forward to hearing (via Team Lemur) more about Hans and Jen Hartvickson's adventures in using poetry and lemurs to get kids excited about learning.
Publisher: Ringtail Learning
Publication Date: 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the authors
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.