Tales of Whimsy, Verses of Woe

Redtail Pr. Jan. 2023. 92p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780999277614.
K-Gr 3–This collection of poems trumpets itself, via a spoof Newbery-style book award medallion on the cover, as “the very best in highfalutin nonsense”—a grandiose claim that falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. The verses are accompanied by droll line art recalling the loose energy of Shel Silverstein drawings. Unfortunately, the poems themselves are by turns forced, grating, and sophomoric. DeRoche delivers on neither the whimsy nor the woe promised in his title: the self-conscious attempts at fanciful humor (“I suppose it’s silly to consider/ An ancient castle made of kitty litter”) come off as cloying and strained, and the few superficial moments of dark subject matter are undercut by the slipshod writing. Stanza after stanza features contorted syntax (“So off to the local store did she run./ A doubt in her mind? There was none”), and baffling asides (“I’ll be a fish of the people—and not a traitor—/ When I’m devoured by a legislator”), all in pursuit of painfully simplistic rhymes. The rhythm shudders and hiccups with emphasis shoved carelessly onto unstressed beats; lines jam-packed with far too many syllables (“All the cars, her bike, and the thick morning fog—/ All of them greener than a Tanzanian tree frog”) make read-alouds an exasperating chore. Time and again, a poem ends mid-thought or on a bizarre non sequitur (“I enrolled in classes to become an exterminator,/ Then opened a small shop just north of Decatur”). As a footnote to one entry, DeRoche writes, “Not for naught did I struggle these rhymes to dispense,/ But in vain were my efforts to have them make sense.” Quite.
VERDICT The quirky illustrations cannot save this clumsily written collection. Stick with Silverstein.

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