I typically don't enjoy trash-talking people, much less other writers, and I am the first to admit that perhaps I'm a bit hormonal and prone to critical rages, but there is a series of picture books that is driving me insane. It's this series of parodies based on "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," a tale which I VERY much enjoy, and which has been beloved by both my kids. Primo, in fact, went through a phase where he wrote his own series of parodies of the rhyme, the most glorious of which was entitled, "There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Count Dracula." I don't want to exaggerate his talent but the kid, three years old, did rhyme "dracula" with "spatula". Not a perfect rhyme but as close as you get with a thorny word like Dracula. Perhaps this has biased me, but I figure, if a three year-old can come up with a rhyme like that, there's just no excuse for a grown-up, much less a professional wordsmith, to publish a book that rhymes "goblin" with "problem." Does she think we don't know the difference between an "n" and "m" sound? There are plenty of viable options for "goblin" - no need to cut corners! For crying out loud, I'm assuming the book wasn't written in a lightening round on some game-show and she had more than a minute to ponder the possibilities.
I told you I was hormonal and unforgiving at present. I told you I was going a bit berserk.
The book is just one in a long series of seasonal books by the same author and illustrator, including "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves;" " . . . A Bell;" " . . . a Shell;" " . . .a Chick;" and " . . . a Clover." I think you get the idea. I'm surprised there's not one where she swallows a heart or one where some stars and stripes or one where she swallows the various body parts of ye old presidents. And the omission of a dreidel one is pretty glaring. I"m just saying.
Ok, ok, you say, we get it, its trash - what do you expect? And you're right. I have long since stopped giving these books a chance because I know they won't redeem themselves.
And by the way, its not just the awful rhyming that gets me but the formulaic way the old lady swallows all the ingredients to make some seasonal-related thing and then at the end, barfs it out entire. I get that the kids are supposed to be putting together the clues and this must be good on some cognitive-skill-building level (well, she's got some snow, and a scarf and a top hat and a carrot --- hmmmmn, could it be . . . . a SNOWMAN?) but whatever benefit comes of this exercise must be cancelled out by the kids learning that "m" and "n" make the same sound. In any event, in the original rhyme so great is that at the end of it, the woman DOES actually die. I mean, she ate a horse, what do you expect? She doesn't put together, in her stomach, some amazing hybrid animal creature with the fly and the spider and the cat and the cow and spit it out because the song is not some linear narrative that's supposed to make sense.
I'm insupportably pretentious. I know. Forgive me. I let my kids eat refined sugar and watch Disney movies and shop at Target. Literature is the Achilles Heel of my down-to-earth-ness.
So, I don't seek these books out anymore because they make me into the Incredible Critical Hulk but I was dropping Sec off at Pre K and she picked it out and I try not to pass along my biases so I read the book to her. It was a bad idea because the shoddy craftsmanship of words was making me so infuriated I could not stop from interrupting my own reading and commenting on it.
"God, that's a lousy rhyme."
"Oh come on, are you kidding me? It doesn't even make SENSE!"
"Just because kids are reading this doesn't mean it can be garbage!"
And finally, "Sec, we could write a better version of this book. Wanna try?"
She did not. She wanted to draw a picture of a cat on a trapeze. Which we did together.
Hey, for the sake of reversing some of the massive negativity I have just expressed, let me offer that there are a few GREAT parodies of "There Was an Old Lady" and top among them is "There Was an Old Monster" by Rebecca and Adrian Emberely (related to the great Ed Emberely). Its fun, has solid rhymes and really colorful, exciting illustrations and even comes with a link to a site where you can hear the accompanying song, written by another Emberely family member. Now that's what I call an homage.