Tuesday, August 20, 2019

No Fair! No Fair! and Other Jolly Poems of Childhood by Calvin Trillin and Roz Chast

I should be honest, up front: this is a book for kids. In fact, it combines some of the worst genres of the kids-book world: the first book for children by someone famous for something else, a collection of humorous verse, a book for kids by someone whose grandchildren seem to have grown up quite a bit.

(There can be good things in the worst genres, of course. And I mean "worst" partly aesthetically and partly commercially: these are genres that exist to move product and usually have all of the flaws that aim delivers.)

I read it because I'm a long-time Calvin Trillin fan, even as I think his verse is doggy at best and occasionally cringe-inducing. Sometimes you just have to look because you think the car has crashed.

So, then: No Fair! No Fair! and Other Jolly Poems of Childhood. Written by Trillin with pictures by the great cartoonist Roz Chast. There are about fifteen selections of verse here -- I'm not going to call them "poetry" in anything but the tags -- though three of those are themselves collections of four shorter related pieces.

It's all intended to be funny, and it's all mildly amusing. And it's about the things you'd expect: protecting your side of the back seat, not wanting a new sibling, stuffed animals, eating habits, shoe-tying, how the older sibling is in charge [1], the "Grandpa rule," school troubles, bedtime troubles, demands for pets.

There's no reason to read this unless you're reading it out loud to very small persons. And, even there, I have to think making up your own jokes, songs and rituals based on your own family will be better and funnier...and will probably happen anyway, in any family that might be inclined to read a book like this. But if you are a grandparent, particularly one who likes Trillin, you are the core audience for this book, and you may find that you have bought it without thinking deeply on the matter.

[1] Wasn't true in my childhood -- my younger brother was the most stubborn person alive at the age of seven, and would do the opposite of anything I told him to, or alternatively would do whatever would most annoy me in that moment -- or with my own sons.

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