My Head Has a Bellyache: And More Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups

Little, Brown. (Mischievous Nonsense: Bk. 2). Jul. 2023. 192p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780316592598.
Gr 2-6–This expansive, anarchic poetry collection boasts excitement, surprises, words of wisdom, absurdist digressions, and laughs galore. In the tradition of Silverstein and Prelutsky, Harris cleverly tackles themes both serious and silly, bringing cheeky levity to his philosophical turns (“The Dance of the Misfits,” “The Place Where the Lost Things Go”) and formal elegance to his humor (“Sometimes I Dream,” “Orloc, the Destroyer”). Bouncy rhyming couplets in Seussian anapestic tetrameter are paired with Tsurumi’s cartoonish black-and-green digital illustrations. Metatextual jiggery-pokery abounds: footnotes flip the meaning of the accompanying verse; a numerical poem unfolds across the bottom of each page; early on, a news bulletin announces an incoming meteor, which strikes more than 70 pages later, obliterating the collection’s title poem. At one point, the author’s children take over and present their own “book-within-a-book.” Not every comedic bit lands; for instance, “The Road to an ‘Aha!,’” written along the winding path of a maze, saddles readers with the twin difficulties of deciphering a byzantine typeface and turning the book (or their heads) 43 times. All in good fun, but the prosaic, overly broad message about uncertainty is hardly worth the effort. The poem does reappear in a conventional layout later on—placing it directly after its confusing first iteration could have helped. Sprinkled amid the wild shenanigans are such deceptively complex topics as paradoxically expressing independence by resisting the ubiquitous advice to “be yourself” and the eternal temptation to procrastinate.
VERDICT An appealingly ridiculous book, recommended for poetry and humor fans.

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